Its the late 1960s in Harlem. In bars, in dance halls, and in basements, a community of mostly trans and queer Black and Latino New Yorkers have started gathering under the cloak of night. Many of them are very poor. Many struggle with homelessness. Many have not felt accepted by their families for a long time, if ever. But in this secret world, those identities are pasted over with sweat and high heels. In this world, you have a family you can count on, gender is deconstructed and reconstructed, social stratification is turned on its head; anyone can be the CEO, the all-American macho man, the high fashion model from Paris. On the runway, anyone can be anything but you better bring it.
Welcome to the ball.
A Ball is a form of competition where people compete on a runway. Drawing its inspiration from the worlds of fashion, hip hop and dance, it includes categories such as "Butch Queen Realness" judged on a participant's ability to pass as a straight male, "Face" an assessment of the beauty of the face, and "Vogue" a highly stylized form of dance, most famously featured in Madonna's music video, "Vogue".
But for many, this isn't just a genre or side hobby. The culture of the Ball scene is inextricably intwined with politics of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and its structure reflects that.
Groups, called Houses, formed to compete against one another. Each House has an appointed mother, father, and sometimes even grandparents and godparents. This structure provided many members of the Ball scene with people they could count on and be accountable to. Families cared for each other on and off of the runway.
Though the Ball scene bruised badly with the AIDS crisis of the 80s, it has been growing and evolving ever since. Today, despite its widespread popularity around the world, the scene remains largely unknown, even in queer and trans communities it is shrouded in mystery and misconception.
Father Dutch Constantine
is the father of the House of Constantine
Each House in the Ball scene is structured like a family.
FATHER DUTCH: Theres always the father and the mother of the house. Houses formed as families to give a name to the kinds of relationships that were already forming.
He explains that the House of Constantine is part of Torontos Kiki scene.
FATHER DUTCH: Theres two levels of the scene. Theres the Ballroom scene, and then the Kiki scene. The Kiki scene started so that people just getting into Ballroom would have a platform to cut their teeth before they went and walked the real scene.
He takes his role as father very seriously.
FATHER DUTCH: At the Ball, I advocate on behalf of my kids. Its funny, like, I never would get angry or steamed at a Ball when I was just walking for myself. But if your kid gets chopped you kind of have to make a stink.
But hes definitely not doing it alone.
FATHER DUTCH: Legacy is the Godfather of the house. He has a lot of experience so he helps instruct. Father Danger is the one who brought us all together. Hes the founder and heart of the house. Then theres Mother, whos a motherly figure and also a figurehead.
He came to the Ball scene by way of his other love: writing.
FATHER DUTCH: At one point I was interviewing the House of Monroe for their five year anniversary Ball. I was like, Whats it feel like to walk a ball? Because, you know, Ill never walk a ball. And Mother Monroe looks straight in my eye and says, Oh, were waitin on you.
He has found it to be something really special.
FATHER DUTCH: The ballroom scene has been a simultaneous opportunity to nurture and be nurtured, and also to bear witness to, and be a part of, forging really important relationships that are aware of dynamics around race, gender, class, but which also have a platform that transforms it.
In some ways, the Ball scene is expressly political.
FATHER DUTCH: One of the really famous lines from Paris is Burning is you know, you cant make it really far in this world if youre a black gay person. Now, thirty years later, We have a sort of visible conversation happening going on around those identities, and I find the ballroom scene as like a platform to acknowledge those things and expand them, to make them more capacious.
But let's be clear: not everyone in the Ballroom scene is interested in politics.
FATHER DUTCH: Theres so much more nuance to it, and sometimes politics isnt even really at the surface. Like its happening, but its not the conversation. The conversations like, Where are you gonna get your hair done tomorrow night before the ball? Thats just as important.
He is very aware of his position as a white person in the ballroom scene.
FATHER DUTCH: I was invited into this community, as much as I play a leadership role. If I ever feel like that invitation doesnt stand, its my obligation to back off.
If youre looking for a friend to watch RuPauls Drag Race with, Father Dutch is not your guy.
FATHER DUTCH: Theres a misunderstanding that drag culture is the same thing as ball culture. I say Im involved in the Ballroom scene, and people are like, Oh my god! RuPaul! And Im like, No. I dont know anything about the RuPaul scene. Theyre great, but its just not my thing.
is a baby of the family.
The first ball Spectrum went to was a breakfast ball, hosted by the House of Nuance.
SPECTRUM: The commentator was like Face! Anybody walking? And nobody was walking, so I was like, I guess Im just gonna do this. I ended up winning.
Growing up, Spectrum didnt know this kind of community existed.
SPECTRUM: I was 16, stuck in North Etobicoke, in Catholic school. It wasnt the greatest environment to be in. We didnt have a gay straight alliance. When they had that whole wear purple for bullying against LGBT day they just said it was for bullying. They cut out the gay part. Their excuse was that people might not want to donate if they know its for gay people.
To Spectrum, the ballroom scene is about more than just performing.
SPECTRUM: I had been involved in queer communities before. People were more likely to include you if you conformed to what their idea of non conformity was. That wasn't me. A big part of this is being able to genuinely be myself around other people.
Spectrum finds that people from outside the community are quick to judge the way gender is articulated in the Ball scene.
SPECTRUM: Im non-binary trans. Theres a tendency for people to see my House calling me girl and saying she and they say, Oh theyre misgendering you! Its like, No. Everybody is called girl. Everybody is called she. People would know that if they got to know the scene more. But they just see whats there and they decide not to look any further.
"We're real people. We have real lives."
SPECTRUM: Its not this outrageous, fringe thing that weird people are doing. Were real people. We have real lives. Theres different things about us. Im disabled. Theres so much more to us than just this. When people see it from the outside, theyre just like oh this is just fun party people. But weve got a lot in our lives, in general. This is like letting go. For me at least. I cant speak for everyone.
Before I can interview
Madame Scarlett Constantine,
she stops me.
MADAME SCARLETT: Wait. I need to put on lipstick first.
A proud mother of twins, Madame Scarlett usually walks runway, but shes hoping to branch out into the body category.
MADAME SCARLETT: Certain categories are misinterpreted. Body, its not like youre naked and showing off your body. Its like an art form, you show off the curve, what you have and what you dont have. Its fun.
Madame Scarletts cousin, Danger, is the founder of The House of Constantine. He plays an integral role in taking care of his family.
MADAME SCARLETT: We have fun like a family, we chill like a family. If theres no practice, sometimes we just go out together and chill.
For Scarlett, and many others in the Constantine family, this feels more like family than the one they were born into.
MADAME SCARLETT: Its weird to say this, but sometimes the family you pick other than your own bloodline family is more like your bloodline family. We fight like brothers and sisters. But at the end of the day, you cant touch one of us, because the whole of the group is beyond you.
JoJo and Yovska Constantine
ask to be interviewed together
Jojo was afraid to join the Ball scene at first.
JOJO: I knew some people in the scene and I had already been to two balls, but I didnt want to walk. The scene seemed to have a lot of drama, and I get scared of drama.
But now, theyre all in.
JOJO: Theyre like, my gay family. I cant talk to my biological family about stuff like this, so having Mommy and Daddy here has been great. Theyve helped me through some really, really rough times. My confidence since joining has gone up a ridiculous amount.
The first time Yovska walked in a Ball, it wasnt planned.
YOVSKA: The first time I walked in one, I wasnt planning on walking, but they had a category called Fag Out which was like, be as gay as you can, sort of thing. And I remember that category called for glitter, so I was like fussing around, like
JOJO: Give me some glitter!
YOVSKA: Yeah. I ended up winning when I poured an entire bag of glitter on my head. People were excited. I loved that energy.
Jojo loves the vast variety of categories people can participate in.
JOJO: Its like, this equalizing thing because you know no matter what theres gonna be a category for you.
Both of them agree that its important to acknowledge the political landscape of the scene.
YOVSKA: Mainstream media constantly borrows from gay culture and doesnt acknowledge where its coming from.
JOJO: I see those campaigns and theyre like, Oh, voguing, cute. It takes away a lot of the political agenda of it. Theyre just trying to make the scene palatable, but if you want to be in the scene, youve got to accept all the parts of it.
When I interview Godfather
he offers me a cookie.
GODFATHER LEGACY: Girl, what's mine is yours, what's yours is mine.
Hes been walking for close to five years now.
GODFATHER LEGACY: When I started in the scene I used to walk All-American runway, then I changed to Butch Queen Vogue Femme, and now I walk European runway.
As the Houses Godfather, he is known to be a little bit tough.
GODFATHER LEGACY: I speak with passion, and they might take passion as anger. I would never attack them. I am a lion to my cubs. Anyone else tries to yell at them, Im the first one to jump in and rip their neck off. If theres a problem, WE will deal with it. Dont baby them, dont sugar coat it.
But he maintains that its important to have fun.
GODFATHER LEGACY: The wolves will bite you, but as long as youre having fun, its like getting bit by a toy shark.
There is a common misconception that the Ball scene is very flamboyant.
GODFATHER LEGACY: Its much more than that. If you look at, for example All-American Runway, is not a flamboyant type of runway. Its an all male, masculine runway. For people to be like, This is flamboyant, and then look at All-American Runway and go, Oh, well I didnt know this existed, Im like, You didnt know cause you never asked. You just assumed.
To Godfather Legacy, the closeness and cohesiveness of his family are what set his family apart.
GODFATHER LEGACY: People are like, Where do you come from? Who put you all in a box together and sold you for one price? People enjoy looking at us doing what we like to do.
He wants everyone to feel welcome in the House of Constantine.
GODFATHER LEGACY: I want to bring in new people, new types of personalities, people that are afraid. Anybody, bring them into the family.
Thank you to the House of Constantine for welcoming me to their practice.
Raise your hands--who had an emo phase in the 2000s? I know I did, as did a lot of people around me. All of us heard “It's just a phase" from our parents at some point, but when you're a kid, life as we know it seems so permanent.
Of course, most of the time, it was “just a phase". And looking back, those phases are regrettable, to say the least. Here are some prime examples of that.
What was your biggest/most regrettable "It's not a phase, mom. It's my life." that, in fact, turned out to be just a phase and not your life?
The enthusiasm of a young person can lead to some unexpected changes that parents are just not ready for.
I was VERY into The Transformers when I was a wee lad in the 1980s. One day, I decided to change my name to the name of my favorite Autobot. My name was lame, and I wanted an awesome Transformer name. And I was VERY insistent that my parents only call me by my new name. Calling me by my 'old' name would cause a big fat tantrum on my part.
So for the better part of a week, my poor parents had to call me Wheeljack.
Very 2008.Ariana Grande Shrug GIFGiphy
My cat-ear phase. I wore cat ears every single day. Everywhere. I had like 20 pairs of them. Now everyone thinks I'm a furry.
I find that very cute and wouldn't have thought you'd be furry. Even if you'd had cat mittens. I think my suspicions would have started if you moved a bit like a cat, displayed catlike grooming habits or got a cat mask.
Not gonna lie, that car sounds cool.
I went to a car show once as a teen, and the only newer car there was some chick's PT cruiser. It was hot glittery pink, and at the time I was obsessed. I insisted that one day I would have a hot pink car, with pink seats, pink dash, pink carpets, etc. I was pretty heavily goth at the time, so my parents just rolled their eyes.
These phases can often lead to some very strange fashion choices.
When I was a teenager (early 00s), I was waiting for my mother to pick me up and was wearing one of those sh!tty sports wristwatches. It was itching me so I took it off for a second, but then she arrived and because I was struggling to get it back on my wrist, I looped it around the equally sh!tty chain I had around my neck in a rush to get out the door.
My mom asked me about it in the car, and I told her this was my new style and I planned to wear it like that every day. She rolled her eyes.
I wore that watch on a chain around my neck every single day for 3 years or so. There are even professional family photos where I'm wearing it because I refused to take it off.
One day, the chain broke and I lost the watch. I was in high school at that point anyway and it was a major lady repellent, so... phase over.
Not everyone can be Eminem.slim shady eminem GIFGiphy
Baggy pants, being a rapper someday and being a professional skater.
When I was about 14 and Eminem was starting to blow up I bought myself a keyboard with a synthesizer. It cost like $200 which was all the money I had saved up. It finally came (this was way before amazon prime and such) and I tried rapping.
My sister told me "you're effing horrible" and I gave up right then and there.
This should be a sin.
I used to button the top buttons of polo shirts.
I must say, this is probably the worst one I've read.
Looking back at our regrettable choices, all we can do is cringe.
An optimistic look at bad tattoos.check me out season 3 GIF by PortlandiaGiphy
Being a tattooer. Regrettable because of those poor people who have my awful doodles on their bodies.
Take heart! My favorite tattoo is the one I drunkenly got my buddy to do in his living room one year during March Madness! It's dumb and frankly mediocre? But such a good story and has such good associations I smile every time I see it.
My friend and I decided we were going to open a bar in Jamaica with exotic snakes in glass cages in the walls at each booth. We convinced ourselves it would be amazing for at least two years in college. It was going to be called Fredro's.
My entire family made fun of me for it. Once we got out of college, we realized it was not feasible and joined the office grind. We're also two white guys with no ties to Jamaica.
Talk about cringey.
I wore a top hat with an anime pin on it for around a year. Met one of my current best friends while wearing it, idk how he could bear to speak to me after that.
My weirdest phase was probably when I insisted on wearing knee-high rainbow socks to school every day. But honestly, I don't regret it. I rocked those socks, and I wish I still have a pair.
To all the people out there cringing over their past selves, remember that you were just a kid, and to be easy on yourselves. After all, we've all been there
It should not take much for a consumer to be satisfied with the products they purchase.
Yet, too often, manufacturers who oversell their products fail to deliver what is promised and are inevitably left with angry customers who want their money back.
Whether the merchandise was defective or ridiculously overpriced, strangers online shared some of their worst purchases when Redditor BooksMcGee asked:
"What is the worst product you ever paid money for?"
Short Life Span
"This NERF gun that's supposed to shoot tennis balls for your dog. I bought it cause I thought you could load 3 at a time and shoot them far, but it's just one and it's super loud and the gun broke after like 4 shots (reading reviews later, this was a common issue)."
"There were these toys called squiggles when I was a kid and the commercials made it seem like the toy was alive. It looked like you would get this crazy little fuzzy worms as pets that would follow you around an so sick tricks and listen to your every command. It was really just a piece of fluffy string tied to another piece of string with googly eyes on it. People may say that it was supposed to be a magic trick but they should also explain that to a 5 year old who really wanted a pet."
"Not their fault, but I paid $70 for a Yugioh card hours before it was limited to one copy. Probably dropped to $20 by the end of the day."
These purchases were bad for your bum.
"A bicycle that literally fell apart before I made it out of the parking lot."
Not Worth Sitting On
"Joybird brand couch. Was so terrible, we returned it. Still hard to believe, we returned a freaking couch."
Going Nowhere Fast
"A 2000 VW Beetle (used)."
"Biggest piece of sh*t that literally had to have just about everything replaced before 100k miles and would still break down every time you left the driveway to the point where the tow-truck driver knew us on a first-name basis."
"An Oldsmobile Achieva from one of those buy here pay here places. I should have known better, but I was young and thought I was getting a good deal. I had the thing for about 5 months, I drove it for maybe 3 weeks. The rest of the time it was either in the shop, or in my driveway waiting until pay day so I could afford to fix whatever broke on it this week. Eventually told the dealer just take it, I'm not paying for it any more. He said nope, and I will make sure your credit is ruined. I said well you sold me a lemon, do you really want to go this route? He came and took it. Never reported anything to credit. I heard he got sued by several other people who sold sh**ty cars too and eventually went out of business."
"Always amazes me when I see them driving around still, I can only assume there's enthusiasts who just love repairing horribly designed cars."
These Redditors were not convinced what they ingested was edible.
"A box of plain Cheerios. Thought they were honey nut, poured a bowl, was very disappointed."
"If I wanted to taste cardboard, I'd just eat the box."
"A burnt frozen pizza at the air and space museum cafe in DC. I Don't wish that experience on anyone. There are some amazing restaurants in DC, don't settle."
The following electronics just gave off a bad charge.
"Asus Transformer Pad TF700"
"This was one of those early 'high end' Android tablets that was grossly underpowered, and it showed. Thing was slow as sh!t in no time flat. Rookie mistake investing into shiny new tech while they were still working all the bugs out. Think I paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $350-400 for it..."
"macbook pro 2018 13" touchbar. 2 years old and dead (battery). they're asking $300-$400 to change the battery. malfunctioning keyboard with double presses and missing presses. that's a lot of money for bad design."
"Past winter my old room heater broke down and I had to buy a new one. Went to a store nearby and somehow got convinced to buy a very costly heating device.. It's also my fault, since there were some sligthly cheaper options around, but nope. I wanted the expensive one thinking it will make my small room a volcano with little to no effort/cost (that's also what the seller told me). Long story short the device wasn't doing ANYTHING. No significant temperature changes, too much space, a weird noise, and was doubling my previous device in utility cost. I still gloom over those 80 euros.."
Some of my disappointing purchases was clothing, but only because I purchased them online. Unless they are a brand I'm familiar with, I'm usually fine with buying new jeans off of their websites.
But when it comes to graphic tees only available on specialty shops, an M-size shirt is not necessarily the same size as those found in other reputable stores.
I bought a medium sized T-shirt from a boutique store online because I loved the look of the design. But when it arrived, the supposed medium fit me like an XL.
At least I gained a fierce cleaning rag from this impulsive purchase.
We all know the job interview butterflies.
We sit outside the office or wait for the phone call and our foot taps at rapid speed. We run through some rehearsed answers, but worry that they'll ask a slew of things we never even considered. We try not to sweat too much.
Often, it turns out alright. We may not get the job, but we're respectable, give solid answers, and learn a lot about the place we're trying to get hired.
Other times, however, all of our far-fetched worries seem to come to life.
Curious to hear just how bad an interview can go, Redditor UIGrimsen asked:
"What was your worst job interview?"
Plenty of people had some truly bizarre stories to share. Part of these train wrecks were bad luck, and part were the insane antics of the people giving the interview.
But for us, they're simply hilarious.
"I applied for a job in a Planetarium, the interview was conducted in a big dome."
"Problem was, another part of the Planetarium staff was doing fire alarm tests during the interview. The dome amplified the sound so much, it was deafening. The interview staff acted like nothing was going on. We had to shout so we could hear each other."
"My mom raises chickens … and during COVID one of them got sick (not COVID). She had it inside to feed water hourly to try to nurse it back to life. My mom has to run an errand so I'm in charge of this chicken for the afternoon."
"I was on a phone screening with a candidate for a position in my office and this chicken starts having a seizure and dies on the middle of this phone call. I look over and it's laying almost like it was crucified."
"The candidate heard the commotion and asked if everything was ok … Which I relied 'yeah, the chicken just died.' "
"She withdrew her application the next morning."
"1.) I walked in as the HR lady farted"
"2.) it was a small office with no windows"
"3.) I asked her questions about their employee retention rate that she couldn't answer"
"4.) the fart stayed the duration of the interview"
"5.) I hope the fart got the job, because I didn't want it"
A Very Instructive Moment
"Applied to work at a vet clinic. Veterinarian did the interview while spaying a cat, apparently one of the cleanest and quickest surgeries they do. I fainted."
"Was not offered the job (after I woke up)."
Others shared moments when their excitement was deflated instantly. They encountered such closed-minded interviewers that there was almost no need for discussion.
That Bus Perk
"As an interviewee It was when I applied to a job as a Junior programmer and in 5 minutes the guys goes 'look, I'll be honest, there is no job, you can get an internship, no pay, we offer the bus pass' "
Plains, Trains, and Automobiles Later...
"I took vacation days to interview, bought my own plane ticket, and paid for my own hotel. First thing the interviewer said was, 'I have no intention of hiring you. This is just a courtesy because I knew your brother.' I had 8 more hours left in my interview day. It was painful."
"They ended up offering me the position many weeks down the road because they couldn't fill the position. I politely declined and got a very passive aggressively worded survey to fill out explaining why I passed."
There's a Right Answer??
"Wanted to work at H&M, got interviewed by the worst person ever."
"One question was and I am legit not lying, 'What is your favorite color and why?' "
"I answered 'baby blue because it's calming and not too harsh to the eyes.' My interviewer then said Oooh, sorry! Red is what we were looking for. And then proceeded to show me the exit."
Last, some shared the times they arrived for the interview excited and enthusiastic, but quickly learned how out of their league the position was.
These interviews looked more like brutal interrogations from the FBI than job interviews.
All the Principals
"Fresh out of college, I was looking for my first teaching job. I applied at a small district for an elementary school position."
"I walked in, expecting the principal and a few teachers. Instead I had the superintendent of the district, some high-level admin, and every single elementary school principal in the district. Probably 15 people in all. They peppered me with questions for 45 minutes."
"I had zero experience, just my student teaching. I did not get the job."
Shove Your Masters
"Finished up a masters degree in physics. Got a phone interview and was was told it would be an introductory chat. Was confronted with a technical interview panel (over the phone) of 6 PhDs, 4 of which had graduated from the research group I had just left. We walked through my research project in about 10 minutes."
"Then the pain began... felt like I'd only learned kindergarten physics."
An Extremely Intimidating Position
"Got an interview for a job as a floor manager at a gigantic steel foundry. I have some background in metallurgy so I thought it'd fit. It paid $90k and I was qualified resume-wise. I got there, turned out it was a group interview with three other applicants, to hear the pitch."
"If something messes up, the company loses $100,000 (some shockingly high amount, I don't remember if it was exactly 100k) per hour and it's your sole responsibility to fix it. They said you'd have to be on call 24/7 to handle anything that comes up."
"I got to the solo part out of curiosity and the interviewer they put me with said something to the effect of 'I know this job sounds bad, but actually it's even worse.' I was desperate for a job because I didn't land one straight out of college, but I was glad not to hear back from them after the interview..."
Here's hoping you don't have a job interview scheduled and this just amplified your anxiety 1000%. The nice thing to remember is that these horror stories are few and far between.
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Believe it or not, Canadians don't live in igloos or freeze to death all year round. If you go to Germany, it's highly unlikely that every German you meet will be cold and uninviting. Hop over to the United Kingdom and you're not going to run into tons of people with terrible teeth and bad hygeine.
These are called stereotypes, my friends, and it's best you leave them at the door. People were more than willing to strike down some stereotypes about the countries they know and love after Redditor HelloThere577 asked the online community,
"What are some false stereotypes about your country?"
"When most folks envision Scotland, they think of kilts, whisky, bagpipes, and red hair.
All of those things exist (and are common) here.
People might also imagine verdant hillsides, rocky bluffs, and skies that randomly switch between clear and cloudy.
Once again, that's completely accurate.
However, one stereotype which has absolutely no foundation, in reality, is the assumption that Scotsmen are constantly hunting haggis. In fact, haggis-hunting only takes place in February (which is the season for deosil haggis) and May (which is the season for widdershins haggis). For the rest of the year, the haggis is more or less left alone."
"I am originally from Portugal and moved to the United States. Around 80% of the people that I have met thought Portugal was either in South America, owned by Brazil, or a part of Spain. When I first came here it made me really sad."
"If the wildlife hurts or kills you in Australia, it's generally because you are f***** stupid. You are 10000 times more likely to be injured or killed in a car accident in Australia than by anything in nature."
This is likely very true, but knowing me, I'd probably be easy pickings for one of those huntsman spiders.
"That we end every sentence with "eh" and drink maple syrup by the gallon and have moose and igloos in our backyards."
You mean... you don't?
Just kidding. Canada is lovely––visit sometime. It's a lovely place.
The United States
"That we always have a shotgun at the ready. A shotgun is a home gun where a pistol is your everyday gun. Your revolver is your dress gun, for special occasions. Then of course your assault rifle is for when you're kicking back and cracking open a cold one with the boys."
"Anything related to The Sound of Music."
Probably gets annoying afer a short while. Great movie, though. Still dreaming about a trip to Salzburg.
"A lot of Americans seem to think we're inbred because we're an island. This is dumb, because it's a very big island (10th biggest in the world), and it's not isolated, we've been invaded, invading, and trading with the mainland for thousands of years."
"That we are car thieves. Crime was widespread in Poland in the 90s but today crime (including theft) rate in Poland is low."
"We do gesticulate a lot, but we definitely don't yell like crazy."
It seems Italian Americans are the ones who could learn a thing or two about being more reserved.
"Iceland. We're not some utopian Disneyland filled with quirky superstitious people that all believe in elves."
Remember: The world is an enormous place filled with people from all walks of life, and they don't take too kindly too stereotypes. Expand your horizons by having conversations with as many people as possible. You'd be surprised how quickly your preconceived notions will vanish.
Have some stories of your own? Feel free to tell us about them in the comments below!
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