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NTKOG #68: The kind of girl who goes out on a Friday night and — god, it makes me cringe even to type this — attempts to dance.

I am: like the perfect storm of non-dance: I have no rhythm, am a total spaz, hate touching people, don’t really like music, and am usually too embarrassed from your attempts to dance to focus on anything else.

I am not: sure why we as a species dance anyway. Is it one of those things that’s supposed to emulate sex so potential mates can assess you? If so, why do so many girls wave one arm above their head and shout “WOO!” while doing it? Is that — is that something I should be doing in bed?

The Scene: Great Scott, in Allston. A corner bar (home of the burlesque drawing sessions I sketched on a while ago) that I had mistaken for some sort of heavy metal situation. When I went there one Friday night with Sister and two of her friends, though, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was nothing more than a PBR-scented hipster haven. Stupid-awesome hats of every description abounded! Skinny jeans and muttonchops for miles!

The live band for the night played mellow indie rock; afterwards, a DJ cranked out dance-your-face-off ’80s hits and fun mash-ups. The Adrien Brody lookalike who encouraged us to come said he and his friend came to dance their hearts out every week, and my sister needed no encouragement. So I navigated through the crowd with my fedora and overly heavy computer bag (bad planning, dude) and steeled myself up to dance. To really dance.

True, I have on occasion — in the right company, and when I’ve been mixing my clears and fermenteds — occasionally been goaded to give the natives a treat and dance for one or two songs out in a club. But actual instances of TKOG danceage are rare enough that I remember literally every one. And not fondly. Should give you an idea of my relationship with dancing.

The four of us pushed our way on the stage, and immediately I was caught in a thronging wave of communal gyration. Other people were not only touching me, but sweating on me. Fortunately, they were sweating straight vodka, for the most part. The contact buzz could only help.

We danced quite literally for hours. After a few minutes of looking around, it occurred to me: nobody can dance. Everybody looks friggin’ stupid. It’s sort of heartening, really, how we have this social covenant that allows us to FLAIL LIKE IDIOTS  while riding the crest of a shared beat. Mass transcendence, almost.

Of course, those were just the good moments. The majority of the time, I was alternately wishing for another drink, or out-of-body teleporting in order to stare with scorn and dismay at my totally spastic limbs and chide myself.

The Verdict: I had hoped — I had really hoped — that this would be an NTKOG that I would dread, but would ultimately end up loving. Like hockey or beer-drinking. But alas, kittens, I am most eminently not the kind of girl who dances.

Even now, weeks after the alleged dancing incident, every time I go out to a bar and see people dancing, or watch a club scene in a movie or TV show and watch the writhing masses have the time of their lives, I flash back to my attempt at dancing and literally burn with shame. Oh god. Oh god. Never again. That’s all there is to it.

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NTKOG #63:The kind of girl who, walking down the street, just bursts into song and sings like nobody’s listening — even when they totally, totally are.

I am: embarrassed for two kinds of people who sing in public: those who think they’re good, and those who know they aren’t but do it anyway. (I’m in the latter camp.)

I am not: the only person who, when walking while listening to the iPod on a deserted street sings along. Right?!

The Scene: The mean, unmusical streets of Brighton, every night this evening. Usually when I walk the four blocks home from my bus stop, I’ll plug in my earbuds and sing along a bit to the music I’m listening to — every once in a while snapping around, just to make sure nobody’s following me within earshot. And of course clamming up the second anyone gets within a half-block radius of me.

This week, though? I didn’t stop singing. Not when people approached me, not when they were a few steps away and grew quizzical and concerned. Not even when they laughed right in my face.

All week I’ve been listening to my country music “he done me wrong” playlist (Hank Williams, Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline — and, yeah, some Dolly and Garth, not even ironically), and paranoid that bystanders on the T could overhear my embarrassing music. But two nights ago, as I walked home around 10pm, I sang along not loudly but with conviction to “Your Cheatin’ Heart” while walkin’ (not after midnight) maybe a quarter of a block behind an uptight i-banker type. And though he was the kind of cute guy I usually blush just to look at, and though he turned around a couple of times and cocked his head at me, I kept on singing.

After the song faded into a moment of silence before “(Play Another) Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” he slowed down to let me catch up with him. When we both paused to wait for the pedestrian walk light another short block later, he turned to me and opened his mouth. I slid out one earbud and he said, “So you’re pretty into your music,” and I told him, “It brings me joy,” and he smiled a little bit and I just put my earbud back in and waited for the light to change.

Of course, not everyone was so cool. Just a few minutes ago, walking home from Sister’s, I was singing along with Loretta Lynn’s “Harper Valley PTA,” trying to get my voice around a few of the slidier twangpeggios. A man was unloading a chest of drawers from the back of his SUV, but when I walked up, he put the chest of drawers down and just looked at me. I chose to believe this is because it’s one of the all-time gorgeous, funny country songs and made eye contact with him, broadening out my twang in a self-mocking showy way. Once I got a few steps past, he said to my retreating back, “You know people can hear you, right?”

I mean, I guess they can, sir, but I’m not convinced that’s such a bad thing.

The Verdict: It’ll be at least a few months before you’re reading about my Nashville debut — or before I sing anywhere other than the karaoke bar or my shower again — but this was liberating. My voice isn’t great, but it’s not terrible, and maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world if someone overhears me using it and enjoying it. I would never dream of intentionally inflicting my singing voice on someone else’s blessed silence (that stuff’s strictly for drunk undergrads. and the couple who lives above me and who occasionally, weirdly, wonderfully sings together while they’re having sex.), but if I accidentally do? It’s not going to trigger the apocalypse.

So this one is a mixed bag. I wouldn’t do it again on purpose or so flagrantly — ’cause, yeah, my heart absolutely froze with terror every time I saw someone coming and forced myself to keep croaking along — but at the very least, during my mostly solo late night rambles, I think I’ll dispense with the panicked look-arounds and keep enjoying this simple pleasure. Once again, for the most part nobody seemed to care when I broke this seemingly inviolable social law, so why not keep breakin’ it? Just like that trampy ho broke Mr. Williams’s non-cheatin’ heart.

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NTKOG #48: The kind of girl who passes up on the mind-broadening, life-giving joys of literature in favor of more modern occupations like texting, fretting and the ubiquitous earbud. For one full week, I gave up reading of all sorts on my two to three hours of daily commuting.

I am: literary in kind of a big way. Basically 97% of my non-secretary time is spent reading four or five novels a week, writing fiction and creative non-fiction, discussing things I’ve read, or doing things to write about. The other 3% is spend making sacrifices to the Awesome Gods for giving me the perfect life.

I am not: one of those vapid 20somethings in whose skull an iPhone light-pulses where once a brain ought to have been.

The Scene: Brighton to Cambridge, back and forth, five days a week. I live only about four and a half miles from my work, which is only two miles from the classes I take twice a week, but for some reason any one leg of the trek takes a dang hour via T. Which doesn’t totally bother me until, by habit, I accidentally look up google maps directions for car instead of Public Transit, and see their blithe little suggested eight-minute drive bloat into an hour-long menace. Screw you, google maps.

On day one of book-free commuting, a few lessons strike me immediately: there is no one to text at 7:45am; if you tweet more than once every three hours, you become a loser jerk who nobody likes; not only is web browsing on the iPhone annoying, but it kind of feels like cheating on your faithful workday procrastination. Okay, so listening to music it is!

I have the same relationship with music as you might have with, say, your third-favorite cousin’s pet labradoodle: I say I like it. And maybe even I kind of like it. But at the end of the day, I find it just pretty okay, and just feel more or less societally pressured to put on a little chumminess with it.

I mean, until last week. I’d just had a handful of fairly great, like, indie songs recommended to me by someone, so I threw together a short playlist and … basically just listened to it non-stop for a full week. That’s always my strategy with music, among other things: love it and love it and love it until I couldn’t hate it one drop more.

Dude, though, it really didn’t feel empty at all, giving up my books for the week. instead of treating music like background, as per uzh, I cleared my mind of all distraction, and focused on it as completely as I do on reading. I listened so intently that I could taste it through my ears, that I was aware of how every note was slightly changing my heart rate or the way I breathed. And — that happy constant trick of the universe — changing the way I perceived the thing changed the thing itself.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a total blob of super-mega-perceptiveness every time I wanted to listen to a silly track. But I tried to be in my moment with the music as much as possible, and it really did make it feel as intellectually and emotionally nourishing as a novel. With a bonus side order of totally, totally making me feel like I was the protagonist of a film, striding toward some urgent climax every. single. minute. Which? Kind of badass.

The Verdict: My week without books behind me, don’t get me wrong: I’ve got both book and laptop ready for the T, prepared to take full advantage of my daily me-time. But I’m also waaaay more likely to be wearing earbuds while I write — in no small part because it drowns out other people’s dang music on the T! — and almost 100% positive to be listening to music when I do other, non-reading-friendly tasks, like walking to lunch or home from the bus.

Just a nice daily reminder, I guess, to keep experiencing the world honestly and inventively and through all of your senses until you’re a writhing, bloody pulp of sensory overload. It’s, like, kind of the only thing that reminds us that we’re alive, I guess?

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NTKOG #40: The kind of rabid fan who, after a concert, hangs out around the stage door and shrieks when the band comes out, begging them to sign CDs, body parts, and restraining order retractions.

I am: like decently fond of music, I guess. I listen to it when it’s on, but generally don’t seek it out.

I am not: into the whole celebrity thing, anyway. Even if I’m crazy-obsessed with your music, dude, man, it’s your mp3s I’m after — not you. (Caveat: the time Vanilla Ice kissed me on the cheek at the Las Vegas Annual BBQ Rib Fair. Swoon.)

The Scene: The Kelly Clarkson concert last night. Sister awesomely scored us two friggin’ awesome seats (Kelly was practically sweating on us! Of course, she was sweating quite a bit anyway…) Sis and I arrived scrupulously early, and so were forced to sit through the worst opening band of all time.

I mean, these guys didn’t even look like a band. They stood at random intervals on-stage like just five random hipster dudes at a bus station. And oh — oh, guys! — I could go on about this shoddy band for hours, but for the sake of brevity, I will limit my scorn to quoting my live-tweets during their set:

8:07pm: Kelly’s opening band is so hipster the saxist is taking myspace pics of himself with his iPhone onstage. #latfh
8:12pm: Asperger’s guitarist’s power stance is basically a full-body cringe. #hopeyourLPsmeltinafreakironicbeersignfire
8:18pm: Sax player is sitting at a keyboard now and eating raisinets and paxil. Bassist hasn’t played in three songs.
8:21pm: Asperger’s is timidly poking the frets like a sixteen-year-old in search of a clitoris. And about as effectively.
8:26pm: In summary, I want to invite this band over to play guitar hero. Because I could kick their asses.

After the set, they announced that they would be signing CDs on the second floor. And you best believe I sprinted upstairs in my four-inch heels, bought a $10 CD, and waited in line. Most unbelievably, there were about seventy people standing in front of me. Directly behind me, a trio of tweens wearing clip-on earrings and baby-powder-scented perfume argued over how much training bra they could reveal to the guys. I was the only person in that line who didn’t have braces.

Finally, I got to the front was was rewarded with manbangs, glorious manbangs:

Left to right: Paxil Sax; Asperger's; too-boring-for-nickname; Animal; and the lead singer slash tamborine-ist: MANBANGS!

Left to right: Paxil Sax; Asperger's; too-boring-for-nickname; Animal; and the lead singer slash tamborine-ist: MANBANGS!

The lead singer’s face was pouring perspiration from flicking his manbangs so hard. Uh, did I mention there was an abundance of manbangs? While one of the b’not mitzvah behind me made eyes at the drummer, I approached the table:

TKOG: Hey, I have a request? Can you write: “To TKOG, who is non-ironically our biggest fan”?
Paxil Sax: Uh, no.
TKOG: Okay, that’s fair. Can you sign my heart?
Asperger’s: What? That doesn’t make sense?
TKOG: No, uh, I mean, can you sign my–
Manbangs: Haha, that’s funny. But no.
TKOG: Can you write just one special word on the cover for me?

Manbangs kindly consented and, after asking me how to spell it three times and telling me he had no idea what it meant, I became the proud owner of:

I forget whether meta-irony is still cool, but either way, it's definitely cooler than this lame-ass band.

I forget whether meta-irony is still cool, but either way, it's definitely cooler than this lame-ass band.

After this debacle, I rejoined Sister in our awesome seats, just in time to catch the second opening band — which was actually one of the best acts I’ve ever seen. I don’t know music enough to know whether this guy is famous or not, but his name is Eric Hutchinson and I am basically in love with him now. Have you ever thought to yourself: “Man, I wish Jason Mraz were a little jazzier and a little … not embarrassingly Jason Mraz? And also maybe he danced around on stage in a cutely dorky way and wore a pretty unfortunate shirt?” Well look no further!

His act was in fact so good that when he announced he’d be signing CDs upstairs, I immediately ran up again, doled out another Hamilton, and got in a much, much shorter line. When I got to the front, though, I was way too in love with him to be a jackass, so just fan-gushed that his music is incredibly joyful, and he signed my CD then let me snap a photo.

Look at this gorgeous man! Now stop looking and download "Sounds Like This." Seriously, listening to his music feels like reading a novel while wearing your warmest sweater. (And click the pic for a link to one of his music videos.)

Look at this gorgeous man! Now stop looking and download "Sounds Like This." Seriously, listening to his music feels like reading a novel while wearing your warmest sweater. (And click the pic for a link to one of his music videos.)

Swoon.

The Verdict: Okay, so it turns out that my instinct was right: I’m just not all that amused by waiting in line to blurt out a few words at quasi-celebs who are so exhausted and overstimulated by the rush of fandom that they could not care less that you’re standing in front of them. Even getting a hug (A HUG!) from the gorgeousness that is Eric Hutchinson was nothing compared to listening to the live performance or even recordings of the songs.

Also, after blatantly mocking the first band to their faces, I subsequently wiki-ed them and learned that they weren’t total randos — they’re actually semi-famous (Parachute. Heard of ’em?), and played Times Square New Year’s Eve last year. Which — yikes — makes them probably the second most famous people I’ve ever unapologetically sassed off to. Now that I know how famous they are, I’m doubly disappointed they didn’t sign my chest! Although, judging by the middle school dance quality of the rest of the line, I guess I’m glad they had a firm no-chest-signing policy in place.

(Also also: In case you were wondering, Kelly was friggin’ awesome! I’m not really a huge Kelly Clarkson fan — I only know three of her songs, and I didn’t know one of those was hers until the concert — but dude, girl can fucking sing. She’s the only person I’ve ever heard who sounds even better live than on an album. And any chick who brings the house down with a Patsy Cline cover is aces in my book. So basically my sister rocks for taking me to one of the most fun nights I’ve had in ages!)

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NTKOG Follow-up: The kind of tireless social crusader who, undaunted by her UTTER failure to get loud-music earbud wearers to turn down their friggin’ music, reloads her arsenal with new techniques.

I am: a couple of weeks away from making headlines. “Four high schoolers bludgeoned in brutal seriously-are-your-earbuds-even-plugged-in?! train beating.” Contact me for the exclusive interview.

I am not: exaggerating.

The Methodology: I was prepared, after my last failure, to give up on trying to make the T a soothing environment, but your comments spurred me on, my cherished advocates for social change. We don’t have to listen to other people’s music! We should be allowed to read in peace on the damn train! I AM TAKING BACK THE SOUNDWAVES! So I brainstormed a few variations on the straight-forward ask. My results:

Variation 0 — Charades: Some of you made reference to some sort of miraculous international “turn down your volume” gesture. What is it, guys? I’m seriously drawing a blank. I’ve tried making eye contact with people and pantomiming turning a volume knob counter-clockwise. Nothing. Putting my hands over my ears and shaking my head. Nothing. Pointing to my ears then downward. Apparently I’m the worst at charades! HELP!

Variation 1 — Mock ’til They Stop: The offender was a cute fake blonde carrying an iPod in a screaming pink Roxy cover and wearing little martini glass earrings — cosmos or appletinis, one can only assume. Over the course of the stops, her music blared on in a rapid spiral of shame-pop. Sean Paul “Get Busy” descended to Lady Gaga, which degraded further to “Fergielicious.” Once her earbud-cum-speakers started thunking out “Play That Funky Music White Boy,” look, guys, I was honor-bound to save the car from plumbing any further depths of her musical taste. I waited for a lull in the bass, then pounced:

TKOG: I love that song! It’s great! And you’re so brave!
Funky Music-Loving White Girl: What do you mean?
TKOG: Well, I mean, I think that song’s great, but everyone makes fun of me. I could never have the courage to play it in the T for everyone to hear!
FMLWG: [flips me off and turns the other way, accompanied by the opening strains of “Living La Vida Loca”]

Variation 2 — Monkey See, Monkey Do: I got on the train and sat next to a pretty long-haired hippie chick. Someone near us was playing music too loudly, though I couldn’t see who, and it made me self-conscious. So I took out my earbuds and (sincerely) asked the girl: “Is my music too loud? Can you hear it? I’m sorry to be weird and ask, but I’m always afraid it’s too loud.” She assured me it was fine and smiled back.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her picking up earbuds from among her ringlets and plug them in her ears. Then she cranked up the volume to maximum, until her music was throbbing in my head, and I finally turned off my own, graciously defeated.

Variation 3 — Killing Them With Kindness: No particular anecdote for this one, but I’ve used it three times so far. It’s more a technique, than anything. Basic conversation:

TKOG: Excuse me, sorry to bother you, but what’s that song you’re listening to?
Music Offender: What?
TKOG: That song that you’re listening to on your iPod. It’s pretty cool.
MO: You can hear that?!
TKOG: Yeah, but don’t worry. I just wanted to know who sings it.
MO: [gives the name of a band that I obviously don’t care about and will never listen to, but in the process either realizes their error and turns their music down, or at the very least, gives me a bemused but not venomous smile]

So far, it’s been my best bet. I’ve gotten two music turn-downs — better than any of the other techniques I’ve tried.

The Verdict: Turns out it is actually possible to persuade people to turn down their music! But it takes much time and effort, and about half the time actually resulted in people turning their volume up. (Which would have happened more, I’m just guessing, were some people not already at peak volume.) Between that and Justice not-so-sweetly suggesting that I belong on the National Registry For National Over-Interactors Who Don’t Deserve Public Transportation, it might be time to give up this quest.

However, looking at my results, I am choosing to believe that the vast majority of too-loud-listeners are not inveterate, hateful nun-punchers, but rather people who are not totally aware of their actions. And if they react with hostility or even do not react to polite, kind entreaties, it is only because they are defensive out of embarrassment!

I know, I know, I’m a gullible fool and they’re all hanging out together right now, listening to a mishmash of death metal and saccharine rap-pop, strangling a sweet little nonagenarian in her own holiday sweater. But I’m trying to have faith.

Anyone have any more fail-proof variations?

(Also, dudes, my apologies for the mega proliferation of T-related stories lately. I swear I’m not becoming the kind of girl who rides the train back and forth all dang day, praying to strike the awkward lode. But tonight I’m going to stalk Lorrie Moore so tomorrow I promise: no trains. Unless I follow her onto one.)

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NTKOG #28: The kind of prim, joyless shusher who isn’t afraid to make your life a living hell until you turn off your music, put your phone on vibrate, and stop clicking your goddamn jaw!!!

I am: a total sound nazi. That much is no exaggeration. Although, in my defense, I blame residual sound-trigger migraines resulting from a very involved medical/dental clusterfuck my sophomore year of college.

I am not: one to actually enforce my vision of a perfect, noiseless utopia on others, sadly.

The Scene: An inbound green line car on the T, a bit past Copley. I am sitting and reading next to a young professional who has a permanent furrow line in her forehead and is intently listening to music on her iPhone, earbuds firmly screwed in above fuchsia dangly kitty earrings.

Now guys, I know many people out there think Apple products are the height of space-age technology, but a disappointing newsflash: Your earbuds are not noise-canceling headphones. Nor are they noise-retaining headphones. They are merely NOISE-TRANSMITTING HEADPHONES that do not fit properly into your dang ears, casting an auditory halo all about your general vicinity, to the chagrin of your non-earbud-wearing seatmates.

I know. It’s a lot to take in all in one paragraph.

So the girl beside me has been shattering her young earbuds for the past half-hour with the screechiest, bassiest, summon-Lord-Satan-from-the-bowels-of-helliest death metal you can imagine. I mean, so loud that the auditory run-off from her headphones alone is about the volume I’d listen to music on my own. It’s so loud her face must be vibrating.

Finally, at the end of a song about, I dunno, gutting an orphan or something, I turn to her with a sweet, apologetic smile, and summon her attention:

TKOG: Would you mind turning down your music? It’s quite loud.
Future Skull-Themed Hearing Aid Owner: What? I’m wearing headphones.
TKOG: Oh, I know, and I’m really sorry, but it’s still pretty loud. I think your music might be louder than you realize.
FSTHAO: If you don’t like it, don’t listen.
TKOG: I really hate to bother you, but it’s actually giving me a headache.
FSTHOA: I’m. Wearing. HEADPHONES. Bitch.

And with that she jammed her earbuds back in and proceeded to turn up the volume (holy shit, it wasn’t at full volume?!), drowning our segment of the car in satanic wails.

At that point, the train lurched to a stop and the lights flickered. A vision flashed through my mind of the train losing power and us stuck underground next to each other for twenty friggin’ minutes. Said vision did not, realistically, end with everybody learning a zany lesson about respecting strangers.

Fortunately, after a two-minute random break-down, the train tooted on its merry way, and my disgruntled former seatmate got off at the next stop, trailed by a few last lingering notes of scorn and discord.

The Verdict: Dang. Turns out there was a good reason I’m not that kind of girl. I always kind of hoped that music-polluters just didn’t realize the annoyances they so liberally sowed! But clearly it’s far, far better to suffer just a smidge in silence rather than put yourself in the line of fire.

Still. Be a good person and think about headphone leakage next time you’re popping in your earbuds in a crowded place! It will, at the very least, save you some embarrassment when other people inevitably mock yo’ taste in music.

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The intended NTKOG: The kind of girl who comes across a street-side busker or jam session, and immediately jumps in as background singer, groupie and, if warranted, potential manager.

I am: the worst singer you’ve ever heard in your life, for starters, and generally irritated when wannabe musicians try to peddle their questionable craft on the street in an attempt to “bring joy” to the world.

I am not: a big fan of music, generally, unless long freeway drives or booze are involved in the mix. (Note the “or” — not an and/or situation. I may be daring, but I’m not a total suicide case.)

The Scene: After taking an impromptu 6-mile walk through Brookline and Brighton this afternoon, I came home for a hot soak. Afterwards, I threw on a highly disreputable outfit (pjs, braless, my Angry Lesbian jacket, etc.) and popped outside to pace while making a quick phone call.

Along the way, I passed the stoop of a nearby apartment building, where two youngish, cute guys sat on adjacent staircases, playing a gleeful duet of Sublime’s “Santaria.” Just the tune for a warm, summery dusk. For a moment I considered singing along, or dashing across the street to ask whether they took requests. But alas, one look down revealed that I was cutting a particularly hobo-ish swath, and, if their retinas didn’t spontaneously combust with the horror of it all, then at the very least I would feel far too awkward to talk.

Back to the apartment, and quickly, was the order of the day: I sprinted so fast that my damp hair was wind-dried by the time I crossed the threshold. I shimmied into the first passably summery outfit that came to hand, and was back jogging stoop-ward in less than three minutes, taking time only to curse with resignation my total loss for a game plan.

What went wrong? Heartbreak! Sometime during the course of my (seriously, three-minute!) quick-change act, apparently the boys packed up their six-strings and fled the scene. Alas and alack! A lack of proper planning on my part, that is.

Moral of the Story: Dude, okay, it’s one thing for a mere civilian to take the occasional casual stroll through the neighborhood, but while surging through life on a constant quest for adventure and spontaneity, you must always suit up. This once you have burned me, o! cruel sartorial fate, but in future, I will always be at the ready.

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