Sunday, July 04, 2010

Gifts The Storm May Bring (Part One)

Well, it's absolutely shameful that it's taken me this long to write a new blog. Now it's going to take me six years to catch you all up on what's been going on. Oy! Guess I'll just get right to it, then...

Oh wait. Get a snack. And a beverage. And get comfy.

The last few months have been the craziest of roller coaster rides in nearly any way imagineable. I have been on the highest of highs and some of the lowest of my lows. And as always...I keep on tickin'. The title of this blog is also the title of a song written and recorded by my friend Faith Rivera, as it seemed appropriate on many levels. Take a listen and let her music inspire you.

Shortly after my last post, the heavens opened up and projectile-vomited upon my beloved former home of Nashville, TN and surrounding areas for two or three days straight, causing the Cumberland River to rise 13 feet and overflow, resulting in over $1 billion in damage and killing over 30 people. Last I heard, there are still 11,000 families displaced, having lost their homes to a natural disaster that simply NEVER happens there. These people didn't have flood insurance. It's a landlocked state, why would they?

What do you mean you heard nothing about it?

Oh yes, that's right...that's because the news was busy harping on the bomb that never went off in Times Square and the beginnings of the repulsive BP oil spill in the Gulf instead. Not that I think these were not newsworthy subjects, but if the bomb didn't go off...then great. Let us know when you catch the bastard who planted it. Keep us posted on the spill. But you couldn't send ONE stinkin' news truck to Nashville? Really?

So...not the best start to my birthday month. Which was compounded by the fact that I could do NOTHING to help...AND I was about to turn 40. Oh the mess my little head was in! How was it possible that I was about to reach this milestone unable to pull a Clooney and do something for my beloved Music City??? That wasn't the plan at all! By 40 I was supposed to be a well-respected, multiple award-winning singer/songwriter who makes enough money that the IRS threatens to eat her if she DOESN'T invest much of it in charity.

But alas. This has yet to happen.

I decided to have a birthday party regardless of how I was feeling, only because I didn't want to regret that I didn't later. I thought about booking a show, but my neighbor Matt said, "Why do you wanna work on your birthday? Have your friends entertain YOU instead."

Turns out he's a genius. Cuz that's exactly what we did. We (and when I say "we," I mean Matt) made a rudimentary little stage, we got a simple little P.A. system from my other neighbor Chris' brother-in-law who works on the Ellen Show (a perk of living in L.A. - there's always a connection to someone somewhere), told folks to bring something to grill and/or dish to pass and BYOB.

And boy did we have a BLAST! Now, I expected folks would show up and sing any old song, or do their previously tinkered stand up bits, or a little improv, or anything off the tops of their heads. And that certainly did happen. But to my delicious surprise - a lot of folks showed up prepared with material suited to ME!  An original song, an original poem, some pieces tweaked to work for the situation, an improv scene based around suggestions about me, songs dedicated to me...I was just stunned! And I felt so very loved. It was a delightful reminder, since often while living here I've felt very isolated and sometimes feel as if I am friendless (ok, I'm a little dramatic, shut up). For this reason I'm so glad I made myself have the party if for no other reason than to realize that nothing is further from the truth.

Storm: feeling unaccomplished and unable to be of service to those experiencing a REAL storm.
Gifts: Friends, friends and more friends.

Don't get me wrong. Turning 40 still BLOWS (how did THAT happen? I mean SERIOUSLY?) - but the people in my life sure don't. I HIGHLY recommend making your friends entertain you on your birthday. You will be glad you did! ♥ ♥ ♥

And I'm sure MY friends will be happy to entertain you for a nominal fee. With a percentage for booking to me.

Here are a couple pics:

                 Our little stage, P.A. system and my piano.                    

And my friends enjoying the entertainment.

After the party Matt's all full of, "NEXT time we'll...and NEXT time we can..." So I had a thought. I had wanted to try and pull together a fundraiser for my Nashville peeps. I had since found out that the Red Cross was delivering boxed lunches and therapists to peoples' doors, but not actually distributing money to people who need to rebuild. FEMA has weird rules as to what kind of home can qualify for assistance (apparently a home you live in does, but a home you own and rent out to someone else does not - doubleyoo tee eff?). I personally knew a handful of families who were in dire straits. So it took me all of five minutes to say to Matt, "What if I did a benefit concert for Nashville here? There's free parking, no obnoxious drink or food minimum, a beautiful atmosphere, no venue owner demanding a cut of the door...every penny we brought in would go to the cause." Matt, being Matt, didn't even hesitate before saying, "Gimme a date." So I chose June 26th...the week after I came back from...


So one of my first blogs here back at the start of the year explains how my sweet Canadian friend Tiffany Keiller proposed out of the blue that she use points accumulated on her credit card to give us BOTH a trip to NYC for our 40th birthdays (she turned 40 a little less than a month after me). So after I tried to talk her out of it, which she wasn't having, I finally acquiesced and we planned it for June 14th-18th. One of our adventures would be seeing my friend and cowriter Levi Kreis in Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway. I was going to attempt to book a little show somewhere if I could.

Well wouldn't ya know it...Levi went and got himself nominated for a Tony Award for that role. In a conversation over the phone with him letting him know I'd be in town, he says, "Oh man, you're coming in the day after the Tonys, what a bummer. Too bad you can't come in earlier and come with me." Silence on both ends for a moment. I then say, "Let me see about this. I'll call ya back." "Okay!"

I email Tiffany. " much trouble would it be to change my flight date out there?" I explained the situation. And without missing a beat she's all, "Well, you HAVE to go to the Tonys!!!" and then she's on it and goes and changes the flight and I'm now flying in Friday the 11th so I can go to the Tony Awards on the 13th with my boo!

(Tiffany knows of Levi and our songwriting relationship over the years, she knows how we've both struggled and she has been unbelievably supportive of both our careers, so she wasn't about to NOT get me to the Tony Awards. She is the rare fan that turns into a genuine friend. So blessed to know her.)

So between mid-May and June 10th it was a flurry of booking talent and getting equipment and stuff secured for the benefit (now called "Angels Over Nashville" - Los Angeles, angels...get it?) and finding my Tony gown.


I won't bore you with the minute and gory details of all THAT mess. Let me just say that I HATE shopping and I was not born with that oh-so-common female gene. Even when I'm thin I hate shopping. I even hate Christmas or grocery shopping. In fact, I am not entirely sure how I remain Queen of the Gays when I hate to shop and haven't memorized every word of every musical ever produced. But I digress. Fortunately, a fabulous boutique I'd never been to in my nine years here called Abundance (Sherman Oaks) had THE dress that fit like a glove the minute I put it on. And my sweet friend Jen Svejda took pity on me after I'd been shopping for the right shoes for three days with no luck and said, "Come on, Mama D - I gotchoo, we gonna find them shoes, gurl!" And we did, for cheap at DSW (clearance sales RULE). And the crowning glory was the specially-designed handmade jewelry that was loaned to me by Gina Venturini Designs (that I'm currently saving up to buy from her - back off!). Pics to come further down.

Storm: body image insecurities and money.
Gifts: Clearance sales and friends.

In the midst of this, I was also competing in a round of "Fame," a five week singing contest at Oil Can Harry's that I used to judge (and should still be) in the hopes that I could win $1000 so I wouldn't be so freakin' stressed about going to NY. I was excited, but I had also literally made myself sick on several occasions because 2010 has been my toughest financial year since right out of college (and back then I was too naive to know how poor I really was, plus for some reason I thought bills just "went away" if you didn't pay them...haha!). Can't lie. This trip was the worst. possible. timing. No, I didn't have to pay to get there or sleep there, but I didn't have a cent to get around or eat. I'd just dropped a good little chunk on the Tony-wear (nothing like a celeb does, but for a girl who lives in $15 tee shirts, it was a lot). Not one cent. I even had to ask my dad for help with my rent for the first time in 20 years. Humiliating with a capital H.

I didn't win. I came in third and got $100. During the finale I was misinformed as to where I was in the lineup so I wasn't ready when my name was called. No shoes, enjoying the show, chompin' on peppermints...NOT READY. It flustered me and my reaction to it was unprofessional (in that I shouldn't have reacted at all) and apparently my trying to make a joke of it made it worse and put me in a bad light to the audience. On top of that, one of the judges brought it up after I sang and threw me right under the bus with it. So if anyone was on my side while I was singing, they certainly weren't after her commentary. I felt really great about my chances of actually winning when I showed up that night. In all of ten minutes it came crashing down on my head.

"Are you ready to order?"

"Yes...I'll have the diva melt with a side of crow, please." 

That was more humiliating than asking my dad for money and I'm not really sure how I got through the rest of the show, to be honest (guess I still had a little professionalism in "it must go on."). I was sick to my stomach for two whole days afterward. Needing the Benjamins was only part of it. Mostly I hate how it made me look to people. I'm sick thinking about it even now. Twenty years from now I will recall this and get sick. I couldn't wait to get the hell out of L.A. and spend a couple days with a longtime, dear friend who gets me and doesn't expect me to be anything other than who I am (as annoying as that may be). 

But on my way home that night, I gave a friend a ride cuz he lived nearby. And God bless him, I had a meltdown in front of his apartment about the whole thing. I won't mention his name because I didn't ask him if I could first, but that angel of a man said to me, "Well...I wanted to talk to you about starting voice lessons when you got back in town, would it help if I wrote you a check for July's lessons now? Then you can have it for New York."

I cried some more. We booked his weekly lesson time right there in the car. Thanks to him and that whopping $100 for third place I'd just won, I had just enough - and I mean JUST enough - to get through my week in New York. And we had the first of his lessons this past week.

Storm: Money and my alter ego Negative Nancy (more on her later).
Gift: He Who Shall Not Be Named.

But hold up. Before that happened, I must mention a little show I was asked to do at the last minute, which just may have changed my life a little bit. See...this is kind of a funny story...

I have this thing when I judge a singing contest...I fell like doing pieces of musical theater, particularly from more contemporary shows where you have to know the storyline to understand the lyric of the song, or there's excessive costuming (Wicked is a good example), just feels weird out of context. I've made mention of this to more than one contestant, my feeling being, if you're gonna pull out the song about meeting the wizard, you'd better paint yourself green. However...this has led to the very nasty rumor that I hate musical theater.

NOTHING is further from the truth. When I was a kid, Broadway was my plan. I've done Annie several times, Guys and Dolls, You Can't Take It With You, the great and almost never done Once Upon A Mattress, several Broadway review-type shows, Everyman (a morality play) and countless performances of classic show tunes throughout college. Once I left college in Nashville, TN, however, my knowledge of theater didn't get me very far. Nashville is NOT a theater town. So I switched gears and became a studio singer and my career then took a different path.

So, my friend Paulie decides to put on a Broadway review show benefiting the Los Angeles Gay Rodeo Association at Oil Can Harry's, the same place where "Fame" takes place every week (yes Brokeback fans, there really ARE gay cowboys - and girls). I find out through the grapevine that literally everyone I know is going to be in this show...but me. I. mean. EVERYONE. I finally go to Paulie and ask if I'd done something wrong (cuz if I had I'd certainly want to right it) and he gives me this great big hug and says, "No no no of course not!" So I say, "Okaaaaaaay...then how come you didn't ask me to be in it?"

Serious as a heart attack he replies, "Because you hate Broadway..."

*beating head on wall*

So I set him straight and then mercilessly teased him for a good solid month or two about it. The show was called "Not Your Mama's Broadway," but I kept calling it "Not Darci's Broadway" and "The Show Everyone's In But Me." I must say he took it like a man.

Well it turned out that one of his soloists had to drop out at the last minute because she was in another show that was also opening that weekend. Just days before I had said to him, "I know I'm giving you so much crap but seriously, if there's anything you need help with, don't hesitate to ask." So Paulie calls me on a Wednesday afternoon - opening show was that Sat at 2pm - and asks if I could please step in and sing "Don't Rain On My Parade" and then, "pick something else you wanna sing." I was shocked, cuz I was prepared to do the door or something...but I said, "Of course!" And I did NOT give him crap, cuz he sounded so frazzled. I said I'd find a second song and let him know what it was asap. And I wanted to do a song that was truly a theatrical piece...not just the typical stuff a pop singer might pull out to pass by like "I Don't Know How To Love Him" or (in my case) something from Dreamgirls. I wanted to PROVE that I did NOT hate Broadway! About 15 minutes later, with the help of my awesome friend Candy, who has lots of Broadway show sountracks, I'd settled on the very funny show-stopper from Monty Python's Spamalot, "The Diva's Lament." 

Well, I had two days to learn this song and brush up on "Parade" (cuz I hadn't sung it without a karaoke monitor in years), meet and try to "bond" with a cast that either a) didn't know me from Adam or b) only knew me as the rock chick who hated Broadway, and find appropriate costuming for "Lament." For "Parade" I just decided to wear a dress and look nice, since the song is such a standard, but I had to actually costume for "Lament." The only picture I got was of my makeup on the first night (and it got way crazier as the shows went on - bluer shadow, ginormous lashes, bigger and redder lips):

So anyway...check out Sara Ramirez doing this song, which won her a Tony a few years ago. This character is the diva bitch to end them all. I was kind of scared because I haven't done a stitch of acting since college. The auditions I go on usually require me to be myself on a happy pill or two. I had to figure this out.

I did. Though I didn't have time to really live in the role or even in the song before I performed it, I got it enough to get crazy rousing applause throughout my performances and even a standing ovation when I did it as my closing number for the "Fame" contest I didn't win. I don't mention that to pat myself on the back. I mention it because doing this piece had re-lit a fire in my belly I hadn't felt in a good 16 or 17 years. It was "Wow...I forgot how much FUN this is!" and "Wow - I forgot that I CAN do this!" Even, "Wow - I really DON'T hate Broadway!" What a magical feeling that was. And my neighbor Matt got to come see it and his whole life has been nothing but show tunes and cabaret acts as a theatrical sound, lighting and set designer. He's been on me for years to do some cabaret and I keep saying no, that's not what I do. I'm a rock chick, maybe when I'm 50. So I knew he'd give it to me straight. All he really said was, "See?? I KNEW you could do this." Which to me, was HUGE. The very next week I went on an audition for the touring show of Rock of Ages with my friend Regan. First Broadway-type audition I'd done in seven years. They "typed me out" cuz they weren't moving along fast enough and therefore didn't even hear me sing, but still, I went. And I'll go to others.

Storm: talent insecurity.
Gift: Paulie.

So this now, finally, leads me to my AMAZING week in New York City! This should be a whole blog unto itself. Dang, where do I start??? can take a look at a bunch of pics here first, then read the details following...

I got there late on a Friday evening into Newark airport (eh...JFK next time) and took an $80 cab to Levi's place. Fortunately, a nice young gentleman who could tell I was an outsider (even though I was born and raised in Upstate New York, it's pretty obvious I'm not a Manhattanite), said he'd share a cab with me, so it only ended up being $40. Another gift.

Levi's sweet significant other Jason was home waiting for me, as Levi had an MDQ show and a rehearsal for the Tonys afterward that night. We had a slice of pizza (yay!!!) and a very nice visit getting to know each other a little. He's gorgeous and gracious. And therefore of course, NOT batting for my team. *sigh*

Levi finally came home and he kept yelling, "YAY! YAY! YAY!!!" over and over while giving me a good ole fashioned East Tennessee squeeze, while Jason laughed at our ridiculousness. I have really missed him. And that hug hit the spot, even moreso than that yummy slice I had just gotten done eating. That's saying a lot, because cheese-laden, grease-pooling, carb-based foods, especially those authentically of New York, are my drug of choice.

We didn't stay up long, he was understandably exhausted, I had jet lag from hell and tomorrow he had two shows to do. But the next morning when I got up, he was grumpy. Jason and I were like, "Er?" About an hour after he left for the theater, he was back. Sick as a dog. The director sent him home and his understudy stepped in. Now...for about a month and a half every Tony nominee has done their eight shows a week (they only get Mondays off), PLUS appearances on radio, tv, special show performances and now Tony rehearsals in whatever time is leftover. So they don't REALLY get Mondays off. It's grueling. 

And then he read the winner predictions. *rolling eyes*

So, I'm not surprised his body rebelled. But in a way - which will no doubt make me sound like a cold-hearted, twisted wench - I am grateful, because it turned out that we had some extra time to chill out and chat while he was home taking it easy on that day before the awards. That was certainly not an ideal circumstance, but I flew in early knowing there'd be virtually no visiting time due to his schedule. So...

Storm: Levi's intestines.
Gift: Extra time with Levi. (Sorry, Booger!)

Saturday night Levi put me up at the Hampton Inn Midtown so he and Jason could enjoy some peace and quiet on the eve of the awards, because Levi had Tony dress rehearsal at - are you ready - 7-freakin-45 the next morning. Ladies and gentlemen...THIS is why entertainers shouldn't be expected to do ANYTHING for free outside of charitable performances. YOU try to sing and dance at 7:45am! Just sayin'.  Anyway, the Hampton Inn's service was WONDERFUL and I enjoyed being totally alone that night in a big fluffy bed just watching local tv and keeping up with my "Angels Over Nashville" stuff. Sunday morning dawned, I slept in, then went seeking out a place to get my nails done. I walked for ten blocks to a place the nice woman at the front desk suggested only to find they were CLOSED! On a Sunday??? So I walked some more and found another.

Mom is probably freaking out right now that I walked the mean streets of New York all by myself in broad daylight. But yes, I did it. And no one tried to mug me...even though Midtown is really kinda gross. No offense, New Yorkers. But it done stank down there.

Took my time getting ready for the show. It started raining. No lie. And not a was POURING. I'm pretty convinced that it would NOT have rained if I hadn't been going to the Tonys that particular year. The remainder of my alternate ego Negative Nancy likes to just make sure I know she's still there on occasion, at the ready to screw things up. Anyway...had help grabbing a car by the delightfully kind staff at the hotel and made it to Levi's, where I was meeting up with him, Jason and Levi's mom and Dad, Connie Lee and Ronnie (who are quite possibly the cutest parents ever). We took some pictures and then we were on our way.

Me and Booger all dressed up.

Thankfully the rain had pretty much stopped by the time we got there. I remember getting out of the car at Radio City Music Hall in front of the VIP entrance and the gentleman who opened the door for me gave me a big smile and said, "Wow, GREAT dress!" I even think he was straight! DOH! After all of us but Levi were dropped off (he was then taken to the red carpet entrance, which - UNSPEAKABLY - he had to do alone because no one was allowed to bring their dates; even the rest of the cast of MDQ weren't allowed to walk the carpet, even though their show was nominated for best musical...whoever decided that is a jerk...what was the point???), we hung out in the lobby till they opened the doors to seating. At some point Christopher Walken walked right past me, he was two inches from me. I squeezed Jason's arm and was all, "OMG Christopher Walken!" Dude was unimpressed. Or maybe just dazed from keeping Levi hyper-organized through all this...

We were seated in the section reserved for the MDQ peeps (except for Levi and Jason, who were right up front), on the floor off to the right. All the cast and their wives (there's only one female in the show, shout out to the very sweet Elizabeth Stanley) and the show's creative Levi's parents, me and his friends John and Paul (whom I met on my previous visit to NYC with Levi in 2006). After that, most of the show was a blur. A big, loud, fun blur. It was surreal watching Levi do a piano duet with Sean freakin' Hayes (of whom I'm a HUGE fan) and to realize he was playing on the stage of freakin' Radio City. WHAT??? When it came time for Levi's category Connie Lee and I were just completely dazed. But this is how it went from my seat:

Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes do their shtick. Kristin announces all the nominees. She says, "And the award goes to...L--" and our entire section was on their feet screaming and flipping out like it was the Superbowl or something. And then I started crying. I'd gotten a little misty-eyed watching him perform, but this was full-on-my-eyelashes-are-gonna-fall-off crying.

Rewind: I love to tell the story of how Levi and I would write songs together at his Sherman Oaks apartment back before he'd even workshopped MDQ. We'd work on the chords and melodies on his piece-o-shite, one-legged piano (which I now have) and then go downstairs to his parking garage and sit on his washer and dryer and work on the lyrics. And...uh...chain smoke cigarettes (we have both quit, now). We'd talk about getting our songs cut by famous people, or he'd finally get a real record deal and become famous himself, and of course we'd win Grammies and perhaps even an Oscar for our songs. Never once did we discuss a Tony. Neither of us being theater folk (he too began his career in Nashville, where we attended college together), it never remotely crossed our minds. But this level of success for him as an artist, we certainly did talk about. So for me to be a part of this moment in his life and career, having watched first hand how he struggled and wrestled with his music and himself for years (all artists have their demons) and at many times with me (family has ups and downs, even family of choice), was an overwhelming, beautiful and extremely moving experience. I am so very honored that he wanted me to be there and so very proud of what he has accomplished  - not just as an artist, but as a human being. And the thing is, there are several people who SHOULD have been there instead of me, who've seen more than I and believed in him even longer. I would just like you to know that I was extremely aware of that then and now and I brought you with me in my heart.

Immediately after Levi gave his acceptance speech and left the stage, I looked over and saw Levi's mom with a still-dazed smile on her face and his daddy with his face in his hands, gently weeping. Whatever happened after that didn't matter.

After party. I don't actually know where it was or what it was called, I just know that we followed one of the MDQ producers (I think), a couple blocks to the place in our freakin' heels and I thought I was going to pass out from the pain and the humidity by the time we got there. But as soon as I walked in the door I saw teeny tiny Kristin Chenoweth talking to folks at the bar and that made things better (I would like to take this moment to ask her to PLEASE eat a sandwich - I realize you're only 3'2" but if that storm had come back, it would have blown you back to L.A., darling). Ronnie, Connie Lee and I hit the restrooms and then the food. All sorts of weird appetizers were zipping around the room...I had some kind of bleu cheese and pear pizza that Connie Lee didn't care for. Lots of shrimp, some yummy things they called "rice balls" (which I had to pick peas out of - ACK!!! - but otherwise the bomb) and the most deeeeeeeeelish filet mignon on a stick EVAH. And I drank 16 glasses of water. At least. Those awards shows are loooooooong when you can't get up for a soda or a snack in the middle of it.

Then Levi arrived and it seemed the party was just getting started. Sean Hayes walked in. Cast members from both MDQ and Promises Promises (Sean's show) started filing in (I believe there was an award show viewing party for both shows at this particular restaurant before the after party). And then...DANIEL RADCLIFFE!!!

Daniel and Levi talking.

This leads me to the hands-down best part of the night...

Daniel meets Levi and promptly starts gushing uber-Britishly, "Oh my Gawd, you're FONTOSTIC, just bloody FONTOSTIC!!!" Levi's very polite, thanks him, they chat a little bit, I steal this picture. Afterward Levi sits down at the seat directly in front of me and excitedly says, "Oh my God, did you just see me with Elijah Wood???"

I'm all, "Dude...that's Harry Potter, not Frodo!"

And we start laughing giddily. Then he says, "Wait...who's Frodo?"

WORD FOR WORD, PEOPLE. This is why he keeps me around. To inform him of the level of import the people he meets and works with possess. *wink*

He's gonna kill me. But that was just too classic not to tattle.

At this point, poor Levi is wiped out from a month and a half of all this stuff plus being ill and rehearsing at the buttcrack that morning. So he said he just HAD to go home and get to bed. I must say I was reluctant to leave because it seemed that just then was when all the celebrities were beginning to show up. But I'm a doofus and didn't even think to say, "Ok, do you mind if I just catch a cab later?" Cuz when am I EVER going to be in a room like THAT again??? And I know he wouldn't have cared. But I didn't think of that till later, cuz I was too, still in a bit of a daze that my friend had just won an effin' Tony Award for banging the crap out of a piano till his fingers bleed eight times a week and I got to be there to see it! The last celeb I saw as I was leaving was Swoosie Kurtz (LOVE her), doing some serious damage to the dessert table. Not that I'm judging. We ALL did.

And so our evening was done. Connie Lee, Ronnie and I shared a cab back to our perspective hotels (we were mere doors away from each other and since NY keeps building up and up, that means the door to my hotel and theirs was about 100 feet away), Levi and Jason to their place, and I assume we all crashed. I went to sleep that night feeling grateful, blessed, inspired and hopeful for my own future. Levi and I had joked on Saturday about how random it was for someone who's never taken an acting class or whose music has never possessed a hint of the standard theatrical to be nominated for this particular award ("By the's a Tony for you...oh go on, just take it...we've got more.") I think I can safely say, without offense to my boo, that if Levi Kreis can win his butt a Tony, then Darci Monet's only obstacle surely is herself.

Storm: Private career and friendship stuff (and some literal rain).
Gift: Public career and friendship brutha-from-anutha-mutha won a Tony and I was there!

And with this, I will end Part One of this blog for now, since it's after midnight already and I have much more to share regarding the remainder of my NY trip and the "Angels Over Nashville" benefit. More gifts to come...

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