NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture

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The 10th annual Women’s Visionary Congress (WVC)  http://www.visionarycongress.org/ will gather in Petaluma, California this month to present the work of visionary women healers, scholars, activists and artists who study consciousness and plant medicines. Since 2007, the WVC has held gatherings throughout the U.S. and Canada to support the transfer of knowledge among women of all generations who apply their research and personal insights. The 2016 gathering will take place Friday, June 17th through Sunday, June 19th at the IONS Earthrise Retreat Center http://www.noetic.org/earthrise/about/overview/. The event will feature discussions, presentations, film screenings, music, a fashion show of upcycled clothing, and visual art. People of all genders are welcome.

Presenters include Jodie Evans of Code Pink, Marsha Rosenbaum of the Drug Policy Alliance, and Ellen Komp of California NORML. Denis Berry, Dana Blu Cohen, Marc Franklin, Flora McCloud, Connie Littlefield, Eda Zavala Lopez, Wendy Ludlow, Ana Elda Maqueda, Mariavittoria Mangini, Annie Oak, Sara Payan, Shannon Clare Petitt, Janis Phelps, Anne Tara Szostek,Nicki Scully, and Virginia Wright will also present. Ethnobotanist Jane Straight will bring a living altar of plants from her garden. Herbalists Sophia Buggs of Lady Buggs Farm https://www.instagram.com/ladybuggsfarm/ in Youngstown, Ohio and Maya Blow http://soulflowerfarm.blogspot.com of Soul Flower Farm in El Sobrante, CA, will talk about their urban homesteads.

The WVC has been recording and transcribing talks from visionary women and their allies for many years. It has created a rare archive of these presentations which it is now beginning to release. Now available to read is a talk given by Carolyn Garcia, former Merry Prankster and first president of the WVC board of directors.

WVC is organized by the non-profit Women’s Visionary Council. Tickets for the 2015 WVC sold out and participants are encouraged to reserve their spot at this year’s gathering as soon as possible. Tickets http://www.visionarycongress.org/wvc.registration.html are $65 to $475. Consider becoming a visionary patron http://visionarycongress.org/wvc.donate.html and purchase a ticket for a woman of slender means who could not otherwise attend the event.  All donations to WVC are tax deductible. For more information contact [email protected].

— Annie Oak, Founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress

Adelle Getty: Our next speaker and last speaker of the day is Mountain Girl.  She’s going to give us a little history and some current time, her latest incarnation.  She was, of course, a Merry Prankster, married to Jerry Garcia, they had two children.  She works with the Rex Foundation and other non-profits and she is very supportive of non-profit work, non-profits in general.  She told me that after living on the Magic Bus, when she got off the Magic Bus she never really could re-enter this world quite fully. (laughter) And she also has a message that she is heterosexual and looking.

Carolyn: OK!  I’ll just stand up here and sing!   I was trying to determine what I was going to talk about because it could be so many things… but, I kind of assume that you would like to hear some of my story, straight from the horse’s mouth.  

I got kicked out of  high school just prior to graduation, partly because I was making smokebombs.  These days if you make bombs in school they want to kill you, they want to put you in jail.  Back then they were more lenient and they gave me the boot.  And it really shattered my parents dream.  I hitched a ride to California with my brother who was doing graduate work at Stanford and he also had a “job” over at SRI doing psychological research sticking electrodes in fish.  I got to meet some of the intelligentsia at Stanford right away.  I was fortunate that the minute I applied for a job there, I was sent to the head of the organic chemistry department and hired on the spot and that person was Karl Djerassi and Karl Djerassi was famous for, not only being the head of the organic chemistry department at Stanford, but he was the man who invented birth control pills.  

So I stumbled into a situation where I’m looking around Karl Djerassi’s office and he had  amazing things on his shelves,  they were very strange sculptures.  They were basically ancient shamanic objects on his bookshelves and I kind of noticed these things were not the common, ordinary sorts of things.  I was hired to be working the nightshift, I was to be working a machine about the size of this room, in a basement underneath the chemistry lab and upstairs were all the foreign graduate students making smelly substances, likely entheogens, out of their organic chemistry science projects. And the smell in there was unbelievable because, I know now, they were making tryptamines like DMT and stuff like that.

So they were partying in 1963. They were having amazing loud all-night parties and I was working the nightshift down in the basement trying to concentrate on running samples through the machine, the mass spectrometer, which required a complicated 17 steps to prepare and put the sample in.  It was really a complicated job and the machine ran at some enormous number of high voltage. You had to go through the electrical panels and it was dangerous.  Eventually after a few months my boss, a very urbane Austrian came to me and said “You must be very careful with this sample here.”  And I said, Why?  And he said, “Well it’s a hallucinogenic witchdoctor drug that my friend over in Africa has sent and it’s called Ibogaine.  I went “Oh.”  And right about that same time came the historic Life Magazine with Leary and Ram Dass in it talking about how hallucinogens might help you see God.  And me, coming from a long line of atheists, had a burning desire to experience this hallucinogenic deity confrontation, I was ready, I was ready to take on God.

So as I ran that sample later on that week, I managed to have a little industrial accident and ingested a really significant portion of the sample.  And passed out.  And was awakened by my boss the next morning saying, “What’s the matter, what’s the matter, what have you been doing?  The machine is going fliggoeheafjaoejewif!  What have you done?  What have you done?  What have you done?”  And I said “I don’t know”, and I staggered off and had to ride my bicycle home.  And I got to the door of the lab and  looked out into the light, which was awfully bright, and I had no idea where I was.  And I couldn’t remember where I lived or how you got there, but I had to make it look good.  So I got on my bicycle and began to pedal and my body remembered where to go.  And if I carefully disengaged my brain, I could make the right turns.  Even if my consciousness had no memory of ever having gone there before.  

I somehow found my way home which was all the way across town, at the far side of Menlo Park over by the freeway.  Collapsed  inside and I don’t remember what happened.  I know I had a lot of dreams of jaguars and pyramids and jungles and parrots and foliage, I was in a very dreamy state for two days.  Whether I received messages of any kind, I don’t recall. But what I did receive was that something came back with me… and it was auditory hallucinations.  For about six months to a year I would have very sudden extremely loud voices right in my ear as if someone was standing on my shoulder talking straight into my ear but in a language I couldn’t understand.  and they were usually angry voices. I had my chance and I didn’t have a translator.  

So I had my experience but I had no one to talk to about it.  Obviously my work performance was then under scrutiny.  And it surely devolved that I lost the ability to run the seventeen steps to run the machine.  I really can’t do steps very well anymore.   I had been the star down there in the lab, so… I had fallen from grace and I soon lost my job.  And my mother came out to see me and by now I’m eighteen and she says, “You’ve got to go to college.  Quit fooling around.”  So she got me to go over to Foothill  Junior College and sign up for some chemistry courses and I couldn’t handle it. Too much like high school. And I ran away, kind of,  and met a bunch of musicians in Palo Alto and fell into the music scene and they were playing me these wonderful records, things I’ve never heard, and I became very engaged in meeting the folk music scene in Palo Alto which included the proto Grateful Dead and a lot of trippers and pot heads.  Palo Alto had a rich mix, a really frothy stew of young people who were emancipated and who had followed their artistic hearts.  I really fell into a good place.  It was golden.  You could come to no harm in Palo Alto in 1964.  

So I floated around Palo Alto for a while, I had a boyfriend for a while who introduced me to weed,  he went away at the end of summer. At that point, early September, I was picked up by Neal Cassady and taken to Ken Kesey’s house, after a whole night of driving around in the mountains looking to find somebody who had some bennies.  We never did find the guy with the bennies but we had an epic journey.  And at dawn we came over the mountain into La Honda, which is a little town on the backside going down  toward the coast, through the redwoods and  into the blazing red fire of dawn across the little bridge into a yard with HUGE trees and the magnificent bus sitting there glowing in the red light of dawn.  I immediately fell in love with the bus.  It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. Here was this artifact that these people had worked on, with layers of crazy paint… you think of a school bus, it’s smooth and yellow and it’s got a purpose.  And this bus was not smooth and it was not yellow and it’s purpose was completely mysterious and it said over the door, “Nothing lasts.”  And was the mantra for this group of people that I subsequently met.  I quickly received the name Mountain Girl, because I had a motorcycle and I rode all around and had rented a little cabin way on top of the mountain at Rancho Diablo, another  story there.  I got dubbed that and never have been able to shake the name.  

I also realized right away that I had met the people that I was looking for.  I had met people that understood the rites of passage and the concept of personal artistic freedom and license and that license they freely gave themselves.  And Ken Kesey himself who was an amazing person with, I would say, multitudes of personality and possibly multitudes of personalities.  He had a lot of extra parts to his mind and they were not necessarily always working together.  He had been a hypnotist in high school.  He had experimented with psychoactive drugs all the way through graduate school.  He was a mad partier.  He impressed everyone with his intelligence, with his writing, his novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and his speaking.  He was into theater in an amazing way and his degree was in drama, but his real love, past drama, was transformation, and what he really liked to do is to take a space and transform it into something that exceeded the boundaries of the normal and lived outside of time.  That was his goal, in a lot of the presentations that we did, was to create space that existed outside of time.  So about a year went by where I was editing film with him and the Pranksters, sorting manuscripts and painting the bus and learning .

We took the bus to the Beatles concert at the Cow Palace, and  did a lot of really fun things, had gatherings, and film events. Kesey had gatherings on Saturday afternoons for the folks from Palo Alto, his literary friends from afar, and the psychology community from Palo Alto. I met Ginsberg, and Burroughs, the Hells Angels and Hunter Thompson. During that time the product that we were consuming was the wonderful Sandoz product that was so lovely, and so easy, I mean it was so easy to be in the forest with the Sandoz LSD.  It was just delightful.  And then that kind of ran out after a while and we met a guy… a guy came from Berkeley, his name was Owsley and he came over one Saturday with a bunch of his friends to see what we were up to, and they had their version of the sacrament.  And It was different.  It is hard to put my finger on how different it was but it was just not the same.  But he pressed a great deal of it upon us.  

Now I want to point out that at this point, right now in Rolling Stone, this current issue, there is a huge interview with Owsley and it’s very interesting.  It’s pages and pages, well worth the price of the magazine and they’ve done this whole sixties retrospective.  They must have paid Owsley a lot to do this is what I figure.  And in the article, they talk about Kesey and the Acid Test and he blames Ken for his own freak-out.  Now how this is possible I don’t know, because he was filling the punch bowl.  He knew what was in there.  It’s like he turned on everybody and he freely admits at what level he was producing in this article, and you’ll read it later I’m sure,  and then he turns right around and says that Kesey was irresponsible in giving it to people.  And we probably had maybe two or three thousand, we made it accessible to three thousand during our period of goofing off and doing the acid tests, and Owsley was very productive as we know.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about his conclusion.

Time goes by and people talk. We were soon busted at Ken’s house.  We were busted and the cops came and made our lives very miserable and there was the whole court scene.  We didn’t know we had an informer and things went to the difficult from the Merry.  Suddenly things weren’t so Merry.  We decided that the scene in La Honda was too small to be a safe container for what we wanted to do so we took it to…first San Jose.  We would find a place and tell a few people and word would spread and folks would show up.  These became very elaborate events after a while but they still had that secret mission air about them.  So we couldn’t really advertise ahead of time.  We would make posters that  didn’t have a place or date on them, we could fill that in at the very last minute.  We did about a dozen of these altogether as 1965 sort of rolled over into 1966 and our legal troubles continued to escalate and that drove the whole thing into a mobile unit so the bus went on out into the world and we began to put these parties on in different places.  

We wound up doing one in a Unitarian Church in La Jolla, California which was a very successful one and that was when we met  Hugh Romney aka Wavy Gravy and his beautiful wife Miss Bonnie Jean , now called Jahanera and the folks from the Midnight show, the old Second City people, Del Close and some wonderful, humorous characters, including Tiny Tim who performed at the Acid Test.  And meanwhile we had this little gang of scraggly musicians from Palo Alto who  followed us, would  show up at our things and play. So we would say, “Do you think you guys could come and play?” And this was the folk rock group called “The Warlocks”.  They were game, they didn’t care how crazy it got.  They liked the craziness. They would drag their equipment in and put it on whatever tiny little area we had for them and sort of plug in and work with the blown fuses and the broken microphones and the tape that was running out on the floor and the goofy people running through and they persisted and they persisted and played and sometimes they were too far gone to play and would only play a few notes and stop.  Often they just would wonder about what they were going to play and never really get around to playing much at all.  But they were ready for this! and they entertained themselves.  And I have to admit I was so busy running Equipment, I was the sound guy so my job was to solder cables and splice tape and get the film and the audio-visual going, and I realized I could take a working dose.  I would take about 50 micrograms or so that would keep me going all night long, to be able to unload, set up, and reload the bus in the AM and stay responsible.  

So I never really got that high at an Acid Test.  I was working.  I regret that now.  I wish I could have just gone with the flow.  It just wasn’t available to me.  I had a mission. And I was really determined to do all of this stuff.  So we filmed some, we taped a lot of this stuff and some of this is available at Kesey.com, but it’s fragmented and we’re talking about libraries and researchability,  there is some material from that area that is still around.  I look at it now and I say to myself, “My goodness, what were we doing?”  And then I remembered what we were doing was we were drawing people in.  We were drawing people in and we were shattering the audience/performer boundary.  So people came in and They were the show. There were pots of day-glow paint and people would just go over there under the black light and play.  I had a magnificent strobe light that my brother borrowed from SRI that was a real photographer’s strobe light.  This was in the sixties so this was early tech,  you could turn it all the way from one flash per second to a thousand flashes per second on this huge dial and it was a very, very bright early halogen bulb so this filled one whole side of the room. Some people hated it. And we got into rigging lights, and film projection, and this very different, amazing but very simple things like sheets of mylar,  very early liquid projection and slide shows and people who wanted to participate began to accrue and we got Stewart Brand with his “America Needs Indians” slideshow, which he was very heartfelt about.  We unknowingly in drawing Stewart Brand drew in a major organizer who saw very far, much farther than we did.  

We were shortsighted in that we had no plan about where we were going, or what we were gonna do or how we were going to put gas in the bus.  And so, we charged a dollar to get in and if you had a good costume you could get in for free.  Folks dressed up. And we went from place to place and I would say the most significant and famous one of the Acid Tests was the one in Watts.  And this was post Watts riots, and Watts was kind of a ghost town in L.A.  And we were right over by the Watts Towers in an old brake shop that one of the pranksters found vacant  and “For Rent,” called the guy and said we need it for an all night party.  And the guy said, “Yeah, a couple of hundred bucks should do it.”  

So we got into this big brake shop and it was empty and the floor was even clean but that night, the only time this ever happened was that a mistake was made in the Kool-Aid.  There was a mistake of quantity.  There was a mathematical error and there was too much.  So it really got wild in there.  A lot of stuff happened and we had people really melting down.  And we had Wavy Gravy, Hugh Romney at that time,  walking around with a microphone.  He would go around and find people down on the floor in a fetal position and get the microphone in their faces and say, “Hey, C’mon, how are you doing?”  And they would be saying “Whooahhh, I need help over here.”  And then we would run that through the feedback loop. (laughter)

So, and then right around five thirty in the morning, the lights coming up in the sky, the cops came and they looked in and I remember they looked in the door and they saw all this and they backed out carefully.  I think they thought we were all really really really drunk.  They are seeing the paint is all over the floor and people are flaked out everywhere.  And so they sat in their cruiser right outside the door and so Paul Foster and I think, Julius picked the bucket up.  This is actually on film.  And the cops are there leaning against their cruiser with their coffee and their doughnuts and Julius and Paul Foster are upending this garbage can full of very strong Kool Aid into the storm sewer.  And just as the last drops were going into the sewers you could see the cops brain cells light up, suddenly connect.  The cops said, “Wait a minute, What is that stuff?”  And Julius and Paul shaking the lid sweetly said, “Oh nothing! Just nothing!”  Because people were so beyond their normal state.  Some people were arrested for disorderly conduct  as they left,  and then quickly released, because that was about all the cops could do.  We went off and eventually, within a few weeks of that, we thought, LSD was made illegal.  And I can’t remember exactly what the dates were.  I was pregnant.

Audience: That was sixty-five.

Carolyn:  But somehow we managed to delay going over the border until there was an enactment of some kind and I remember going over the border right around the beginning of April of 1966, or the beginning of March.  We were so sure they were right behind us and they were, really right behind us.  We snuck across, we left L.A. in the middle of the night and went out the back roads of the desert. We went to the tiniest border crossing we could find  and went across there and then we drove further South through Mexico for days until we got to Mazatlan.  The Mexicans of course wanted to see everything we had, they were entertained, we had to take everything off the bus, there was nothing there, and put it all back.   Our group was so stressed and strained about what had happened that we began to fight amongst ourselves on that trip.  

So we didn’t have much individual money, we had a can with money in it and somebody who got money would put money in the can and we took out what we needed and often the money would be there one night and be gone the next day.  So everything felt unfair and really uncertain.  I was pregnant and I didn’t have any stuff.  I didn’t have any diapers, I didn’t have any baby food, what were we going to do.  And we caught up with Kesey who had gone before us, had fled from prosecution a couple of months before.  We caught up, invaded his hideout in the Bus, and blew his cover completely.  He was disguised as a mild-mannered ornithologist doing bird research in the jungle.  And was crazy as he gets.  He was really in trouble with the law.  They wanted to get him because they saw him as a kingpin.  He saw a federale behind every cactus and he was really tweaky.  

So we just went and took the bus on, we just kept going south. And we went on to a town called Manzanillo and  holed up in an old rented  compound that we found on the beach in Manzanillo.  So I had my child and survived, and learned Spanish and fell in love with the Mexicans.  And they sheltered us!  We knew we  were probably being watched but because there were good big walls on this compound we could tell ourselves that the bus was hidden.  Although you could really see it from over here and there, it was hard to hide the bus.  And we stayed there for about six months until we thought things died down.   

So, with all of that behind us, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves after that, we felt we had shattered our opportunity to be normal, responsible citizens in the U.S. and we didn’t know quite what we were going to do,  but we did have to go back.  So when we returned that October, we met up with the band, now  named Grateful Dead, at a show at San Francisco State and the Pranksters split up right after that.  We couldn’t cohere.  We didn’t have a center, we didn’t have a place to be.  We were so busy going to court and trying to work through the various legal stuff, that it was like the curtain came down on the whole thing and not in a very good way.  And we split up and I with my little baby became basically a homeless mom.  And I didn’t have anything, I had no money, I didn’t have any stuff, but luckily I had my family.  And one of my brothers was living in San Francisco.  I stayed with him for a while.  And I discovered where the Grateful Dead were living and I went over there.  

We had a wonderful reunion and I wound up moving in to a wonderful house on Ashbury Street with nine men, some of whom were sleeping on chairs because there were no beds.  So at age 20 with the baby and Haight Street two blocks away.  I was cooking for these guys and so it was what I was calling the brown rice and burnt pork chops diet. (laughter) And suddenly I was in a house rather than outside which felt alien, didn’t really feel right.  But the Haight–Ashbury was just at that beginning-to-crest moment in late 1966 and when Spring came, so did everybody else. And so what was a very gracious and sweet and caring artistic community in the Haight Ashbury was completely overwhelmed in very short order by about 15,000 kids from all over the country who similarly had nothing and were sleeping on the sidewalks, they were sleeping on the park, there was no food. And quickly the caring people in the neighborhood, this was pre-hippie, the caring people in the neighborhood put together organizations to care for and to feed, to find people places to live, to act as legal representation for the multitudinous busts and it was a marvelous community that came together and supported this influx of basically homeless kids with their puppies and their sad little faces when they realized that there was no place for them to be where the police would leave them alone.  There was no safe place. And as they began to experiment with drugs they became ever more unsafe.  

It was a charming and pathetic thing, 1967 was.  And part of me wants to not celebrate it the way some people do because I think that I remember the sadness on some of those girl’s faces when they faced the facts that they were prey…That was tough to see.  And I was very fortunate to live in a house and had a caring man who loved me, and a place for me and my baby and I saw all of this.  And so we went to work and began to support the Haight-Ashbury free clinic, and the food and the Diggers and anything to make it better, anything to make that mobile and fragmented community better.  And it was really good for a while. We did free food of every variety.  And there was a large theft ring that would go steal things out of dumpsters from the Safeways, and cook up good things to give away.  And free boxes emerged.  There was enough people in the Haight-Ashbury that cared, to make it sustainable for that  next summer.  My heart goes out to them,  a lot of them are gone now.  A lot of those wonderful people.  They really saved the day.  Because the media had created this image that you could go to San Francisco and a magic would unfold in your life.  And basically people would come to San Francisco and had to fend for themselves.  And it was a shock.

And after that, the Grateful Dead got huge and who knew.  They made fifty dollars a week back then. We ate communally.  Everybody pooled their money.  We had a manager who kept everything together, Danny, and it was very sweet.  But I kind of missed having any help.  The entire focus of the group was on the career, on the performances and on the music and nothing really came back to the house.  So what I am saying is that I wasn’t really liberated and I wasn’t free or open or part of the show.  I stepped back into a supportive role and stayed there.  It was tough to give up equality and it was tough to give up a leadership role in the organization that I lived with.  There was an overwhelming need to succeed and to have the music succeed.  And so I think we all fell into that together.  

The music began to develop in such a way that it began to have this entrancing quality and that grew.  The feedback from the audience as the entrancement got stronger and the events would get bigger and stronger and the energy would get stronger and people were more and more committed to it.  And it snowballed and this long, slow gathering of momentum as the talent grew for bringing a whole huge room full of people into the same psychospiritual space and bringing everybody in together.  And I was caught in that too, and I supported that, and my spot was behind the amplifiers, projecting the energy, working with the energy, helping the room to flow.  Paying attention to the plug-ins to make sure people weren’t stumbling over them and unplugging everything during the set.  

The support for the art, and I’m going to call it the Art, because that’s what it was, it grew to the point where it superceded everything, it superceded my family, I didn’t get to see a lot  of my old friends. We were locked in, we didn’t go on vacation.  Our first family vacation was not until 1987.  We worked.  It was the “work”.  Now I think back and wonder, “Why were we so dialed in?  Why were we so focused?”  Because it was so compelling.  What they had created was this amazing, compelling thing that was co-created, on a stage with all these working people, it didn’t always work, often fell apart, didn’t work.  Then depression and anxiety were pretty extreme and they would work harder next time.  

I look back on that long, long period of effort. Kids were born amidst a multitude of adventures and it really wasn’t until they stopped playing together and Jerry got sick, that I suddenly began to remember there were different parts of my life before then and I began to remember what I was doing before I got engaged in this gigantic enterprise.  And um, and since then, since it all sort of dissolved, that beautiful container that we made for that community, where that community could find each other, and sell things to each other, and the parking lot scene and the kid’s room and all this traveling circus,  it was the biggest circus in the world for years and years and years.

I remember one time we went and played outside at Stanford during the Reagan administration during the mid-1980s and when nothing else was happening, everything else had  been shut down, and here was this Grateful Dead show and 10,000 people greeting each other and loving each other and creating this beautiful community that’s now cross-pollinating.  I can be really proud of that.  That we made a place for everybody to meet.  We made a place that was sort of safe,  well, it wasn’t really safe, it was attractive enough to generate the impulse to get there.  It gave a place for people to find each other.  And I hope that all those babies that were made (laughter) and you know…this was a real community!  I don’t know what’s going to happen now.  It’s on tape, we have that.  As far as I’m concerned I’m dealing with the following issue, the archival issue.  What do we do with all of this stuff from then?  We can’t really re-create the show.  We can play it in a movie theater over a good sound system and it’s wonderful.  But it isn’t the real thing anymore.  And we have this dense mass of stuff and it’s dusty, and mine has old dust and owl poop on it and I don’t know how to pass it on.  

My question I guess, what I come away with from the conference, how do we save some of it?  How do we make it accessible, how do we share the love of these things in a kind, generous way, without losing control.  How do we go on from here?  As a community after all that.  Who am I going to be, these are my personal questions, who am I going to be after all of that?  I know that our hearts have been opened by entheogens.  There is no way to close them anymore.  We can’t go back to society the way it was.  It’s changed.  We’ve changed.  We are new people.  We are old people.  That’s the best song.  We are the people we’ve been waiting for too.  And in love, and in gratitude and in kindness, I feel that this is the path,  to be in these communities of effort and art and spirit and I don’t know where we are going to meet again.  I look forward to that day very much.

Thank you very much.

© Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia

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