Monthly Archives: February 2014

50 shades of gray Allen, days 16-17

So as I’ve moved into my high school years, it seems I’ve fallen off the actual year cycle and into the academic calendar. So be it for the entry.

1978-79

Cey Scores ToppsAs this year began, I got the biggest surprise of my young athletic life. I won tickets to see the Phillies play the Dodgers in the 1978 National League Championship Series, game 4 at Dodger Stadium.

It had been a mail-in contest, with one entry per person. So I sent in 30 with the same address and different name. There were my parents, Ed & Cathy, and my brothers and sisters. And there was Bill, Frank and Steve that I made up just to name a few. But when the award letter came back it was in MY name.

We had won then right to buy two $3 tickets for $16.50 each. They were at the top of the right-field bleachers, looking right into the sun as the day game made its way into the late afternoon. But hey, we were there and that’s all that mattered.

And when the game came down to the final at bat, we watched as Bill Russell slapped a single to center that the Phillies’ Gary Maadux couldn’t field and allowed Ron Cey to score from second. It was epic and my dad and I were there!

My freshman year, however, was just odd.

I was still terrified of girls, but that was about the furthest thing from my mind.

Well, I’m a guy. So while it wasn’t the furthest thing from my mind, I wasn’t really concentrating on them at this point.

No, it was all about survival. It was about avoiding the likes of John Condos, the older guy who lived down the block from me. He seemed intent on having me push pennies around the rim of a toilet seat or something, and that just wasn’t gonna happen.

Because aside from John, everyone else seemed to think I was a junior or senior. I was a big kid at that age, big enough that more than a few friends hung out with me just to avoid the typical hazing the underclassmen got. Little did they know I’d avoided all manner of confrontation to that point in life, only having two fights through age 15. And both had ended badly for the other guy.

This year’s first memory was my friend James King and some of his other friends getting a little trouble with the law. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that as smart as that group was they acted pretty dumb. The only major problem for me that arose from it was that since I was close friends with James, the campus cops decided I must know something about what was going on. And so for a few weeks they religiously followed me into the gym at lunch time to watch me play basketball, I can only assume they thought some ill-gotten booty would be exchanged from James’ foray to the dark side of the law.

After about a month I had had enough of feeling like a criminal when I was likely socially sanitary than Mr. Clean. My mom drug me into the principal’s office to meet with Mr. McGrath, where she explained that I had better be left alone or there would be hell to pay. Mom was not a master negotiator, she believed in good ol’ blunt force diplomacy.

This was the year that former Beatle John Lennon was killed outside his apartment in New York. I was OK with their music from the 70s and all that, but it wasn’t like they were the end-all-be-all of the world. They were guys, in a band and the sang well. That was it. But when he was shot, you’d have thought the world was coming to an end.

Being much more of a football fan than a Beatles fan, I was a little put off when they interrupted Monday Night Football to announce Lennon’s death. It lasted only a few seconds, with the Patriots and Dolphins not missing a beat on the field. But when asked about it by some staff member of the Burros Blockbuster school newspaper, I gave what I thought was a pithy response with, “I’m sorry he’s dead, but I just don’t think they needed to interrupt Monday Night Football to report it.”

Looking back now, not a great response. But the ire it drew from the school paper’s adviser was a little over the top. She wrote a commentary and cited me as being “… apathetic vermin …”, and that’s where she crossed the line.

The next day Mom and I were back in McGrath’s office. She had been a little perturbed after the campus cop thing, but she was in full-on attack mode now. Had his desk not been so big, I’m sure she would have gnawed his leg off.

McGrath pulled in the teacher, who’s name escapes me now and instructed her to apologize for the commentary and that she had to write a full retraction in the next issue of the school paper. At first she refused. But when McGrath indicated that he already had her termination papers in hand if she failed to comply, she relented and fell in line.

All this time I’m in freshman Geography, being taught by the offbeat teacher named Frank Mazer. Mazer was unlike any other teacher I ever had. He had this strange sense of humor (still does, by the way) and unlike other teachers, he seemed to

Frank Mazer

Frank Mazer

really care deeply if you got the material. He didn’t just want you to learn it, he wanted you to genuinely get it.

As basketball season rolled around, I found out that he was the freshman coach. I went through tryouts and ended up as one of the 15 young men to make the squad. I wasn’t a front line player, but I hustled my way into significant playing time. I dove for so many balls that Mazer would later nickname me the Human Bruise.

That moniker didn’t stick, but another one did – Magic Gut.

There has always been a lot discussion and interest into how this name came to be, and why I even let it exist as it seems derogatory in nature. But trust me, when considered against the other names I was getting called, it was clearly the best of the bunch.

One day while playing basketball at lunch (long after the campus cops had stopped being my lunch-time “fan club”) we were in there playing hard and having a great time. On this particular day, we were all acting as our own play-by-play announcers, ‘broadcasting’ our maneuvers and trick shots as we executed them. It was kind of dumb. But hey, we were freshmen!

It was in the Spring and the NCAA Tournament had just ended, with Michigan State having defeated Indiana State for the title. One player emerged from that game on a media rocket ride, and his name was Ervin “Magic” Johnson.

So as I took the ball at the top of the key, I decided to drive to the hoop and began by ‘broadcast’…

“Magic fakes left, dribbles right, spins to the hoop and scores! Magic Johnson rolls it in!”

It was at that moment that Greg Markarian, chimed in with, “More like Magic Gut!”

Everyone laughed, but it wasn’t at me. And that made all the difference.

A few years later I did the same thing to Rob White. But we’ll save that story for a few chapters down the road.

That summer, while playing in my final year of Senior League, I had my first and only multiple home run year. I hit one of Jimmy Lawler and one off Paul Bergens. Those feats of strength jump-started a great season in which I struck out 30 times in 18 games.

Yeah, the pros were sure to be impressed.

1979-1980

My sophomore year was a little less strained. I knew my place with women and it was either as the “coveted” big brother or as the undatebale material guy. Either way, i was OK with it, so let’s move on!

When basketball season rolled around we had tryouts and there were a ton of guys going out. We all hustled our butts off for two weeks to impress coach Al Sedios and then gathered in the locker room after the final session to find out who had made it and who was going home. Sedios started slowly reading a list of the 15 names of the guys who made the team, and when he stopped reading mine had not been called.

This was really the first of a series of moments in my life where I really thought I knew what was going to happen, but this time it didn’t. As we left the training room and headed to our lockers, some of the guys tried to console me. It did little good. There were guys on that team I knew I was better than and all my mind could was race in a feeble attempt to ascertain why they got picked and I did not.

I went home, flopped into bed and cried.

Thundarr-the-Barbarian-image-1The next morning I sat in front of a TV watching Saturday morning cartoons. I had found a six-pack of 7-Up in the garage and was drinking them as I watched the likes of “Thundarr the Barbarian” on the screen. I’d polish off a can, crush it and rifle it into the fireplace. My mom would walk through the room occasionally, looking me over and just letting me sit. She new I was ticked and I think even she was a bit miffed.

Then the phone rang.

“Tim, its for you,” she called from the living room. “Its Steve Fry.”

“What does he want?” I scowled.

“I don’t know, just come and take it.”

I did and said hello.

“Hey Tim, its Steve. I was just wondering why you weren’t at practice today?”

I had been in a bad mood that morning, that put me in overdrive in a heart beat. “Real funny Steve. How about we meet somewhere and I kick your ass?”

I’m guessing that Sedios must have heard that through the earpiece on the other end, listening to Steve’s call as he made it from the Burroughs coaches office. I heard the rustle of a phone being given to someone else and then he came on the line.

“Tim, this is coach Sedios and I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” said Sedios.

He went on to explain that when he was reading the names the night before he must have skipped over mine, telling me he was as nervous to read the names as we were to hear them. Of course, none of us were counting names, we were just listening for our own.

BHS GymHe related how when the team’s practice had come to an end that morning that the guys were all on the line and he only counted 14. “Where’s Allen?” he asked, to which Fry had responded, “You cut him last night.”

Oh to have been a fly on the wall of the gym that day.

When I coached years later, that one experience proved more valuable than just about any other athletically. It gave me the perspective of being cut when I had never been cut before. And it allowed me to show compassion to those I was having to let go from the team.

At the end of that year we played a game in Palmdale that I will never for get. It was a very intense game and right before the final buzzer a huge fight broke out. The benches cleared and when the melee was cleared, the refs were ready to call the game a double forfeit because neither team had any players left.

It was then that Mazer, having been sitting with Sedios on the bench, pointed over to where our team had been sitting. And still seated was myself, the pacifist. I thought the reason they were fighting was stupid, so I just sat there and watched the whole thing. And when the refs confirmed that I hadn’t moved, we got the win.

I got my first job sometime this year as well, working for Mr. Dye at Compard Computer Center. We sold these things called Apples and they were just cool. Mr. Dye’s task for me was to learn how to play all of the games that were available for them. Yeah, play games. All afternoon. And get PAID for it. Life was good!

As time passed I got into repairing them as well. One day a guy brought in a machine that was in a wood case, not too much unlike the one see at the right. When I went to fix it it had a serial number of a bunch of zeroes and something like 48 at the end. We logged it, repaired it and sent it on its way. Knowing what we know now, I’d have kept it and gave him a new one. That thing had probably come right our of Steve Wosniak’s garage and today would be worth a ton.

Burroughs baseball came and went, with nothing substantial in the mix. And summer was now void of much of the action I had seen previously because I was too old for Little League. So it was work and summer school so I could finish up Driver’s Ed and get my license.

Next time, I become and upper classman!

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50 shades of gray Allen, Days 14-15

Ahhh…

Junior High. That time in life when the acne you’ve managed to ignore for the previous several years becomes the defining aspect of your entire being.

I’ve now reached age 13 in my quest to recount the past 50 years of my life as I head toward my birthday later this month. And these next six years were clearly the most formative of my life.

1977

After completing sixth grade and leaving the likes of Mrs. Oretga, Mrs. Urseth and Mr. Oshel behind, I entered into a realm where classes changed every hour and the struggle to figure who we were was cloaked in everything we did.

Welcome to James Monroe Junior High School.

I was a little overwhelmed that seventh grade year. As someone who was very into sports, I didn’t play anything for the school that first year. In all honesty, I just didn’t think I had anything to offer. I played baseball when the spring rolled around, and at the time, that was all that mattered.

Four FoursIt was during that first year that I met James King. James lived in the outer reaches of Inyokern and spent something like 20-30 minutes one way on the bus to school each day. And while his athletic career never existed because of that commute, he was an extremely talented brainiac. When we got to eighth grade, Mr. Maxwell had a contest to see who could figure out how to get all of the numbers 1-100 using only four fours in a variety of equations. James won that contest and then took it to the extreme, figuring out how to make every number up to like 100,000 or something. No contest. No prize. Just did it because he could.

Yeah, made my head hurt too.

Becoming James’ friend was really the first time I realized that I possessed the strange ability to converse with both geeks and jocks. Kind of like an interpreter, but for two groups that rarely take to each other or have need to do so. Its proven to be a semi-useful skill as the years have gone by. Too bad Syrians and Jews aren’t jocks and geeks.

When baseball season rolled around it was a grand season, capped by my making the 3-year-old All-Star team. We only had on e tournament to play in Tehachapi, but oh what a weekend that turned out to be.

Tehachapi BaseballWhen we got to the field for our first game, my dad noticed that the umpired were climbing out of this unusual van. As my parents explained later, the umpires were convicts from Tehachapi Prison, a facility for mostly drug dealers and users and one my brother had the unfortunate experience of spending extended amounts of time in . But they were on work release and the tourney directors assured us they would be fine, and they were far better than promised.

The plate umpire was a long, lanky site of a man named Slim Johnson. For him to have to squat down so that he could accurately call balls and strikes seemed like more punishment than anyone in that facility deserved, especially for multiple games. But Slim was so enthusiastic about his job that he made every call seem like a cheer. And when someone was called out on strikes to end a frame, he exploded from behind the plate in his own mini one-man show. He was awesome!

When we got to the final game, the opposition was especially rowdy. With Slim and his partner unfortunately on their way back to the prison, the games officials were less than stellar. The calls seemed pretty one-sided and when the other team got rude, they did nothing.

And that’s when things went a little south.

One of our top pitchers that year was Doug Sullivan. Doug was a strapping left-hander that threw hard, and I mean hard. But he also a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and somehow the other team sensed that. At one point while on the mound, the opposition were really riding Doug and it finally got to him. When the other team’s coach made some derogatory comment with a man on first, Doug made a perfect pick-off throw – right at the coach’s face! Fortunately said coach was behind the dugout storm fencing.

When the game ended, Doug had reached his boiling point. I saw him moving toward the exit to our dugout at full steam and I got in his way to try and stop him. He pushed hard enough to get us both onto the field when I noticed Doug’s mom at the fence, grasping it frantically.

“Don’t let him go, Tim!” she implored. “Do not let him go!”

At that point I had lowered my head into Doug’s chest, trying to hold him back like some linemen hit a tackling dummy. I wrapped my arms around him and kept him from moving long enough for a coach and some other guys to help me out. It wasn’t until later that my mom informed me that while I was holding Doug in place, he had a baseball in each hand and was evidently heading to the first-base dugout to exact a little ‘Walking Tall’ justice on the opposition.

Good times.

1978

So my first foray into school athletics began. It all started with soccer and my having to convince Fred Parker and Jack Clark that I should be our team’s goalie. They really thought I should be a full back and had chosen Jeff Nelson to be in the net. He didn’t want to be there and so one day I convinced him to not show up for a game. He bailed, I got into goal and never left.

And with the whiz kid Frank Ortiz acting as a one-man offensive machine, we managed to work our way to the top of the standings before losing to Murray in the finals.

When basketball season rolled around I made Clark’s Heavyweight Basketball Team. When you look at the team picture for that year, I’m the tallest guy in the program. And that included Scott Fulton. I was a starter and given the honor of performing the tip-off for each half of every game. I won e very single tip except against Antonio Dobbins of, guess who … Murray.

Shot PutIn the spring we had track and field, and due to my birthday falling in a weird place I was placed in the 12-13 age bracket instead of the 14-15 one. That meant that my 6-1, 150-pound frame was going up against kids half my size. I ran the 4×100 relay a few times to help out the team, but specialty was the shot put and discus. I set school records in both of those events that may still stand to this day. I mean, throwing a 10-pound shot was like tossing a softball.

I attended my first dance and never left the bingo table. How could I have known then I’d be a Southern Baptist five years later?

And now I must come clean on something, and I will be sending Keith Haywood a message regarding this after I post this. I won a wrestling tournament at Monroe for the heaviest weigh division when Keith was unable to find shoes to wear on the mat. He asked another student if he could borrow his shoes for the match, but I begged the guy not to give them to him because I was afraid Keith would crush me.

It was small. It was petty. And Keith deserved better, a lot better. Sorry Keith.

Parker, Clark and Don Crouse. All three of these men had a major influence on me, but maybe none more so than Clark. He taught me that math could be fun and that organization and creativity were keys to being successful. When he and Parker gave me the Coach’s Award at the end of the school year, it laid a foundation for the work ethic I’ve had the rest of my life. The words of the plaque stated that it was “Given for outstanding Desire, Attitude and Hustle.”

Next time I head into high school. Now it starts to get really groovy.

 

50 shades of gray Allen, Days 10-13

And the beat goes on …

So here we are in my ninth year of life in 1973. I know this is Day 10, but that’s what ya get when you’re born early a in a year.

1973

Third grade was pretty uneventful, as a whole. Mrs. Lovett was my teacher and all I really remember about her was a lot of grumpiness.

But this was the year that my dad began coaching my baseball teams. We were the twins and we had quite the rogues gallery. I could be mistaken, but I think this was the year that I met Greg Bond. Even if I’m wrong, we’re going with it because now I’m thinking of him.

elephant-donkey-boxingGreg and I have had a unique friendship over the years, running into each other now and again. Of late we have re-connected via Facebook and he is one of the few people that I can have a legitimately in-depth political discussion with where I know that he will (A) make coherent arguments and support them, (B) won’t drop to name calling if things aren’t necessarily going his way, and (C) isn’t so died in his party’s dogma that he can’t see the other side.

Rare qualities in today’s faceless Facebook climate.

I also met Jay Young this year. Jay gave me my first instance of being knocked unconscious, which has happened twice in my life. I can clearly remember me playing second base and Jay being at third during a practice session. Our assistant coach, Mr. Brown, was hitting ground balls and sent one up the middle. Jay and I went for it and collided, with Jay’s knee going right into my stomach. I lost my wind, evidently blanked out and awoke to the team circled around me while Coach Brown pumped my right leg like and old-fashioned water spigot.

I guess that was ‘high tech’ emergency medicine back in the early 70s. Good thing John Gage and Roy Desoto came along soon thereafter to set us straight.

1974

This was the year that I can honestly say that I really, really started following baseball. Thanks to my friendship with Jeff Johnson, I was quickly becoming a Dodger fan. And it was that year that I can really remember watching not just who the Dodgers played and how they did, but really paying attention to what they did. I watched how Steve Garvey hit, how Don Sutton pitched and how Davey Lopes turned a double play at second.

And I watched that World Series against Oakland where the Dodgers just didn’t have the guns to take down the A’s.

But no matter what else happened, that great catch and throw out by substitute outfielder Joe Ferguson. He was in right when Reggie Jackson hit a fly ball to right-center with Sal Bando on third. Jimmy Wynn was in center, but had a sore arm. Ferguson ran in front of Wynn, caught the ball and rifled it home to catcher Steve Yeager who applied the tag.

The Dodgers lost that series, but stole my heart.

4th Grade Cortichiato1974 was also the year when I met the first of some awesome teachers in my life. In fourth grade it was Mrs. Cortichiato. Mrs. Cortichiato was just incredible in how she taught us stuff. But her greatest gift to me was reading. I like to read today, but she read to us in such an imaginary, enthusiastic and creative way that you could almost see what she was saying. We spent about an hour or so each day as she read from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, crouching down while singing the Oompa Loomps chants and using a variety of vocal inflections to impart every mood of each character.

Years later as Sports Editor at The Daily Independent, I was covering a Burroughs volleyball game when I noticed a Cortichiato on the roster. It was her daughter and I felt oh so old.

It was also this year that my mom took me to Mrs. Merrick to learn to play guitar. We showed for the first lesson and she started instructing me on how to finger the chords on the neck. When I told her it hurt, she informed me that it wouldn’t after awhile as I would form calluses later. Dismayed, when we left I told my mom I wouldn’t be going back as I couldn’t lose the touch on my fingertips for baseball.

Even on my non-throwing hand.

Yeah, I was a dork.

1975

This was my first year in what Ridgecrest Little League called ‘AAA’. It was backward of what the big leagues did, but we didn’t care.

My dad and Mr. Cope took over the Senators. We were an OK team, but were very young. I had to big moments that year, the first coming at the hands of the league’s most feared pitcher – Roman Revels.

Roman was lanky, a year older and much taller than every other kid in the league. In the short 45-foot pitching distance, his stride seemed to put him within a few feet of the plate when he’d pitch. It was downright scary.

But one night as his Indians faced my Senators, I came to the plate determined to get a hit off him.

As I stood in, he gave me his typically scarey stare. I’m pretty sure he had pitches beyond a fastball, but I doubt he was about to ever waste them on me. I believe it was the second or third pitch when I connected with one, check-swinging the bat and never completing the cut. But the ball took off like a rocket and found its way over the 7-Up sign in left-center. I rounded the bases bases at full speed, not really sure what was happening. By the time I got to the plate, my team was all there like we had won the title.

BaseballLater that year I had another memorable encounter, this time in the field. We were playing the Indians again and I was at third base. Guess my dad figured I was a power hitter now, and back then those guys didn’t play second base.

There was a man on third when a screaming grounder headed my way. The runner broke for home and I rocketed it to Mark Cope at home plate. The runner turned to retreat to third and Mark whipped the ball back, arriving at the same time as the runner. I remember him being bigger than me and lowering his shoulder as he tried to get to the bag. We collided a few feet in front of third and I went down like a sack of potatoes. It stunned me and when I looked up I saw two things – my mom hovering over me, having somehow gotten onto the field faster than the Flash, and the ball still cradled in my glove.

Later that summer I remember the epic World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. It was a classic, what with George Foster’s laser to the plate after catching a foul ball and Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 homer.

Even though I was Dodger fan, I grew a greater appreciation for the Reds and their manager Sparky Anderson that year.

1976

As far as baseball went, this was one of those incredible years. And not all of it was on the field.

When Spring came my dad and Mr. Cope were back at the helm, this time with my dad as the assistant. When they had tryouts, they called me in to help evaluate the talent and they really listened to what I had to say.

During that session my mom decided to try out this new-fangled thing we had just bought called a microwave. She decided to make brownies in it, putting them on the table in the dining room that had been turned into the Senators’ Draft Central. Being a kid I quickly downed several of them as we looked over players, barely chewing enough to taste them. Brownies in 10 minutes? Are you freaking kidding?!?!

My dad and Mr. Cope got around to trying them about an hour later. When they tried to pick one up they were as hard as rocks. I silently wondered what might be happening tome internally.

We went 17-1 that year, running through our league schedule like water through a sieve. The only loss came at the hands of team where the opposing coach’s older son was umpiring the bases. Needless to say that there were several calls that were highly “questionable”.

In the City Championship Game that pitted Ridgecrest’s best team, us, versus China Lake’s best team, it was a classic. David Wooten was their ace pitcher and we sent Jay Perry to the mound. The game was scoreless until the sixth, when I think they scored four runs. We answered with four in the bottom of the frame to extend the game. I believe they scored once in the eighth (which we answered) and they won it in the ninth with another tally. It was a classic game and still the best baseball tilt I’ve ever been part of.

I made my first All-Star team that year and we played in Bishop. We didn’t do as well as we thought we should have, but it was still like taking that next step.

Later that summer the Jersey Maid Milk Company ran a baseball trivia contest on its cartons, with the winner getting tickets, airfare and everything else to the World Series. I enlisted my mom to help me research the answers, and so off to the library we went. We came home with about a dozen books and dug in.

As we turned page after page, I noticed that my mom was looking at one book rather intently. She had stopped skimming and was reading some story she found. And when she turned the page, she broke into a small stream of tears that steadily grew.

“What wrong mom?” I asked.

“I … I know him,” she replied.

I walked over to look at the book, a large picture of some old guy on the right-hand page. He had a nice smile, but I didn’t know him.

“His name is Jack, Jack Rothrock,” she siad as she sniffed. “I lived with him and his wife when I ran away from home as a kid.”

“Wait! You know someone who won a World Series? I sarcastically queried. “Come on!”

“I did. I really did.” she said.

I left it at that and went back to my own research. But as that summer drug on, she was relentless in researching this guy and where he might be. And one day, she found him living just a few hours away in San Bernardino.

We drove down and found his home, a small trailer in some park. She knocked on the door and it slid open. Tears were shed as they hugged on each other. Finally my mom introduced me to Jack and his wife, Ardith. We shook hands and Ardith offered to let me sit in their living room to watch Saturday morning cartoons as they reminisced.

Jack Rothrock

Jack Rothrock

About an hour or so later Jack limped out of the kitchen, his replaced hip giving him some trouble.

“Your mom says you like baseball,” he said in a gravelly voice. “That true?”

I said yes and he asked me to follow him. He stopped at the first bedroom in the small trailer, opening the door and clicking on the light.

The smell of infield dirt poured out of the room as I walked in, seeing boxes of various things covering the floor. There was a mit in one and many had newspapers and clippings. As I looked around the room I saw a team picture unlike anything we had ever taken in Little League. Each player had his own image and at the top is said “St. Louis Cardinals, 1934 World Series Champions.”

I looked at Jack and he smiled, then pointed toward one side of the image. “That’s me right there. You know any of these guys?”

“Yeah,” I said in wonderment. “That’s Dizzy Dean, and that’s Rip Collins and that’s Frankie Frisch!”

“That’s pretty good,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not even sure I know them all anymore.”

We must have been in that room for an hour looking at papers, gloves and anything else he wanted to show me. In a subsequent visit he confided in me that his kids didn’t really care about his career and that it was nice to get to share it with someone who cared. He had made a decision that he wanted me to have his World Series ring in his will, but he died before he could get it changed. His kids then suddenly cared, as they came in and sold it all off. It was truly sad.

Jack always seems to keep coming back up in my life. He was the one who gave me the ability to see history, and especially sports history, in a new light. It was more than just the wins and losses. It was the love of a game that he gave me and that I’ll never forget.

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