Prologue

The brain’s a funny thing when it comes to memory. For example, I can’t remember what color underwear I’m wearing right now but I can tell you that I was wearing a California Raisins “Let’s Party, Dude!” T-shirt when I got smashed in the head by a dodge ball in third grade and the gym teacher, thinking about the mounds of paper work he’d likely face if he reported a concussion, told me to “clam up, lie down on the bleachers, and sleep it off.”

So what is it about the brain that makes the storage of these memories possible? Turns out that just beyond the central gyri and the longitudinal thingamafulcrum resides the Spazzbrum, a squishy sausage-like thing that remembers every horrible, embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you. Yes, from that time in sixth grade when you farted during your oral presentation to the day you met the people who would eventually become your in-laws and, thanks to a gas station Subway sandwich, you puked Exorcist-style all over their bathroom. Seriously, it was everywhere. Anyway, despite all the pain and agony the Spazzbrum has caused me over the years, it is the reason I’m able to remember the following story in such gruesome detail. Therefore, I dedicate this story to you, Spazzbrum. Jerk.

——-

Early on, I became obsessed with TV. Especially game shows. I was completely fascinated by this shiny world where toothy hosts made every moment feel important, as if the future of the world was riding on whether or not a contestant knew the retail price of a quart of motor oil. But more than the crisp $100 bills or the promise of a “brand, new car!,” what really fascinated me about game shows was that ordinary people (and by “ordinary people” I mean “people that looked like my school’s lunch lady”) could play a major role in a TV production.

Tic Tac Dough. Sale of the Century. Classic Concentration. The 1980s were a fantastic time for game shows. So fantastic that I actually enjoyed getting sick because it meant staying home from school and watching hours upon hours of game show schlock. Hell, I was more than willing to swallow a little cough medicine if it meant a hearty dose of Dr. Barker (“have your pets spayed and neutered!”), Dr. Dawson (“Suuuurvey Says!”), and Dr. Whatshisname from Press Your Luck (“No whammies, no whammies, stop!”).

And then there was Double Dare, Nickelodeon’s innovative game show for kids. I say innovative because, for the first time in television history, a game show dared to answer the age-old question: “what if we take a couple kids, cover them in a mysterious-yet-colorful slimy goo, and have ‘em pick plastic boogers out of a gigantic rubber nose?”

For advertisers, it was the perfect formula (messy + gross = ratings hit). For kids, it was the chance to live vicariously through the lucky contestants who got to do things like hurl pies at one another, dive face first down an ice cream-covered slide, and cannonball into a chocolate pool—all without a grownup shrieking about the mess you’ve made.

Oh yeah, you could also win money and cool prizes. See, on the show, two teams of two competed each other, answering a variety of questions ranging from ridiculous (“how many eyes does Michael J. Fox have?”) to downright hard (“what is the square root of 891305122.4?”). Now if a team got stumped on a question, they’d “dare” the other team to answer. If that team didn’t know, they’d “double dare” the other team who would then, either answer the question, or opt for a “physical challenge”—a rotating variety of different stunts that, more often that not, involved a player flinging something (i.e. bananas) across the stage for their teammate to catch with some kind of apparatus (i.e. their pants). All this built up to the show’s finale: a 60-second race through a wonderfully messy obstacle course.

For all the above reasons, Double Dare quickly became my favorite game show and I wanted so desperately to be on that stage catching bananas in my elastic blue tracksuit pants. The reality, however, was that Studio City was a world away from our house in the Orlando ‘burbs.

Everything changed in 1989. That’s when Orlando launched its plan to become “Hollywood East” by opening two new theme parks that doubled as full-working studios. And get this. One of the parks, Universal Studios was going to include Nickelodeon Studios.

Thank. You. God.

Now it turned out that God—obviously a fan of watching kids get slimed—was only getting started. See, in early 1990, The Orlando Sentinel announced that Nickelodeon was holding auditions for Family Double Dare. Whoa. All I had to do was convince my parents and sister to audition.

That turned out to be pretty easy. My sister, 18 months older and classically competitive, happily agreed. (Though, just to be safe, I had been fully prepared to whip out the “Do this for me and I’ll make your bed for a month” card). My parents were also on board. After all, Double Dare was textbook kitsch and my parents loved kitsch. From their collection of Howdy Doody and Welcome Back, Kotter lunchboxes to the department store mannequin positioned in our kitchen, our house was like one of those cool stores in near-abandoned strip malls that’s filled with talking Pee Wee Herman dolls, Mr. T trading cards, and stacks of dusty LIFE Magazines.

So with all Blooms on board, my dad called to set up an audition. He was told by the receptionist, “wear comfortable clothes because you’ll be performing a simple physical challenge.” Later that afternoon, we sat down to watch the show together. Immediately something jumped out at us: these families were really, really athletic. I don’t know why I never noticed this before—maybe I was too caught up in the whole “wouldn’t it be cool to be smothered in syrup” factor to realize—but catching oversized rubber frogs in frying pans while being blindfolded required real athletic skill. Now, with an audition date scheduled, I started to watch the show with new eyes. And what I saw scared the crap out of me: the contestants who I once idolized now looked eerily similar to the kids that tormented me daily in gym class.

Now it was one thing to be laughed at by the 20 kids in my gym class (“Easy out! Easy out!”); it was another to be humiliated in front of a national TV audience. See, I should explain that Blooms have never been what you’d call “athletic.” Not that we didn’t try. Hell, I tried every sport from soccer to karate and while it’s true that these trial periods typically lasted about three weeks, I had learned:

a)     I didn’t like to sweat.

b)    I didn’t like to hang around other kids who were sweating.

c)     Wearing the team uniform was cool—until it got sweaty.

d)    Gatorade is for drinking; not for pouring over your head.

e)     A and C

f)     All the above

And let’s not forget that whole can’t catch a ball/throw like a girl/complete and total lack of coordination syndrome that has plagued Blooms for centuries. But the challenge that lay ahead wasn’t some meaningless game of P.E. dodgeball or painfully long game of volleyball; it was Double Dare! And because of that, we were determined to kick butt at our audition. So much so that we did something totally crazy: we practiced. We actually transformed our living room into a makeshift Double Dare set and practiced different physical challenges.

Seriously.

My sister and I, standing on one side of the room, flung tennis balls to my parents who tried catching them in cowboy hats, sombreros, or other accessories from Halloween costumes from years past. We had races where we wore giant clown shoes (another Halloween favorite) and games of catch where we tossed tennis shoes into pots. We even dug up my old tricycle and pedaled zigzag around a line of cones in our foyer.

After a week of strenuous practice, two things were clear:

  1. We had roughly the coordination of a pile of mud.
  2. Because of that, our only hope of making it on the show was to somehow find a way to stand out from every other family.

About a week later (despite the fact we practiced every day, we had somehow become less coordinated), it was time to audition. As we drove along I-4, my heart raced at the thought of seeing Nickelodeon Studios. After all, this was going to my very first taste into the magical world of television! I was going to be in a real-life working soundstage! I was going to be surrounded by spotlights, cameras, and props! I was going to…

a rundown office park?!?

Something had to be wrong. Where was the giant Nickelodeon sign…or any sign for that matter? And where was the green slime? The only thing that came close was the mold growing on the front door. This was all wrong. We walked through the front door and saw a torn sheet of notebook paper posted with black duct tape on a far wall:

D.D. Auditions

—–>

We followed the arrow and walked down a long hallway. At the end was a woman in her late 50s sitting behind a bridge table. With dirty blonde hair and slimy leathery skin, this woman was the last person I’d expect to find at a kid’s network.

“Who are you?” she barked in a gravely voice that sounded like equal parts lifelong smoker and razor blade gargler.

“We’re here to audition,” my dad said.

“Obviously. What’s your name?”

“We’re the Blooms.”

“Wait over there,” she nodded at the wall.

My confidence was fading quickly. I had expected the bright and vibrant world of Nickelodeon. Instead, I was in the black and white world of Nick at Nite—minus the canned laughter. About twenty minutes later, a door opened and out walked a family of four. They were everything we weren’t: tall, blonde, and tan. They were all smiles are they strut down the hallway and looked us up and down, their eyes saying “Easy out! Easy out!”

A minute or so later, a man, a youthful 40 with sandy blonde hair and a neon orange Nickelodeon shirt, emerged from the room. After a brief consultation with leathery lady, he looked at us.

“Bloom family?”

“Right here!” my parents answered together, way too enthusiastically.

“Well, let’s get started then.” He gestured toward the room and we followed.

“My name’s Gary,” he said. “This’ll be pretty simple.”

“Gary, before we begin,” started my mom. “We’ve got something to say to you.”

“What?”

[SPOILER ALERT: What happens next is embarrassing. It’s also ridiculous. It’s one of those things that you look back on after the fact and wonder justwhatinthehell you were thinking. Anyway, at the risk of further embarrassing myself, as well as my sister and parents who were so kind to go along with this whole thing in the first place, I’ll proceed. Just remember, you’ve been warned.]

Like I said, we knew we weren’t going to get by on our athletic prowess alone. So, as a surefire way to impress the casting director, we came to the audition with a little something extra: a song.

That’s right. For some reason, we thought, “hey, if we can’t climb monkey bars blindfolded, we’ll sing our way into the show!” It was just like Lucy scheming to get a spot in Ricky’s show, only a lot less funny. Here now, published for the first time anywhere, is the song.

 

[Sung to the tune of “New York, New York”]

Start spreading the slime

We’re ready to-daaaay

We want to be contestants on

Fam’ly Double Daaaaare

Our tennis shoes

Are longing to stray

We’ll run that obstacle course

In the fastest waaaay

 

This went on for three more verses before we finished with a show stopping display of jazz hands and the toothiest smiles we could muster. We waited for Gary to shower us with praise. What we got instead was a really long silence. Finally he said something.

“You know, um, contestants don’t sing on the show,” he said.

“Yeah, we know,” my mom said in between breaths. “We thought we’d give you something special.”

Yes! Our plan to stand out was working!

“Whatever. I need you to do a physical challenge.”

Do you know that feeling you of dread you get before diving off the high board, taking a final exam, or if you’re a Bloom, doing anything that requires athleticism? Multiply that by 20 and that’s how we felt at that moment.

“Here’s the deal,” Gary said, handing my dad a lemon. “Put this under your chin, then pass it to each other without using your hands.”

That’s it? No throwing? No catching? We could handle a little lemon passing, no problem!

Gary called, “Ready, set, go!” and were we off and running. My dad tried passing the lemon to my mom. Thirty seconds later they were still trying. I caught a glimpse of Gary, he seemed concerned. We were in trouble. Finally, my parents managed to pass the lemon, which meant it was now up to my mom and me. With the lemon under her chin, my mom leaned down to pass it to me. The lemon fell to the ground and rolled.

And that’s when things really started to go really, really wrong.

My sister yelled, “What are you doing?!?”

My dad shouted, “Pick it up! Pick it up!”

My mom and I scrambled, Three Stooges-style, after the lemon.

“C’mon, you’re messing up!” my sister screamed.

“Hurry, hurry!” my dad added.

Finally, my mom grabbed it and tossed it to me. Big mistake. I didn’t catch the lemon. Instead, it fell to the ground again and rolled across the floor again. My dad started laughing uncontrollably and my mom wasn’t far behind.

“Hurry! You’re messing up!” my sister said. “C’mon, c’mon!”

I grabbed the lemon and placed it under my chin. Now with the clock racing and the pressure on, I did the only thing I could to salvage the mess we’d created: cheat. Violating the cardinal rule of lemon passing, I used my hands to transfer the fruit from my chin to my sister who was quick to point out, “stop cheating, Robbie!”

Mercifully, Gary stepped in.

“Uh, thanks for coming in.”

And then, the most ridiculous question in the history of ridiculous questions. Asked by me: “are we gonna be on the show?”

Gary looked at me paused. Maybe he was seriously considering putting us on the show! Maybe just maybe we had impressed him with our song and, well, unique physical challenge!

“We’ll, uh, let you know.”

Then again, maybe Gary was just trying to find a polite way to let down a 13-year-old kid.

——-

Epilogue

After the audition disaster, it was business as usual in the Bloom household. My parents continued to laugh through the times when life gives you a lemon…and you drop it. My sister, always the competitive one, became the official “rule policewomen” in the house and ensured that games of Monopoly were not only played fair and square but also ensured they were no longer fun. As for me, I watched as that season’s episodes of Family Double Dare came and went and eventually accepted that Gary wasn’t going to call. Meanwhile, I continued to obsess about the mystical world inside the TV screen and dreaming that one day I’d be a part of it. Assuming I wouldn’t have to pass a lemon under my chin, of course. 

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ROB BLOOM is the Arts & Culture Editor at TNB. He's also a comedy writer, screenwriter, copywriter, somewhat decent juggler, pro wrestling historian, former Disney character, and, perhaps most impressively, a connoisseur of all things deli. He has written for the Cartoon Network, McSweeney's, Opium, CRACKED, Fresh Yarn, Monkey Bicycle, Funny Times, NPR, and the Travel Channel. Last year, Rob’s original screenplay was produced by the Upright Citizens Brigade and shown with the trailers in movie theaters across the country. Rob is also the writer of a regular humor column, which has been praised by the Erma Bombeck Writing Institute as well as his parents who proudly display it on their refrigerator with magnets shaped like fruit.

Rob grew up in the sunny Orlando ‘burbs but now lives in Philadelphia with his wife, newborn son, and Shih Tzu badass. You can contact Rob at [email protected]

48 responses to “Slimed in Klutziness”

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    Ahhhhhh….

    Dude.

    I’m squirming here.

    I think it was the song that got to me.

    The horror…

  2. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Oh, I enjoyed this piece! I just had a flashback of lying on the sofa, sick with fever, the TV on, and hearing “No whammies! No whammies!” being screamed like some crazy mantra. Ah, memories.

    Your family gets big points for creativity and gumption.

    By the way, if you learn of a means to disengage the aforementioned Spazzbrum, I’d be grateful to have that information…

    • Rob Bloom says:

      Thanks, Ronlyn. I wish I could say that I elaborated parts of the story for comedic effect but, sadly, every embarrassing detail is true.

      Don’t you agree that classic game shows (i.e. Match Game, Concentration, etc.) are sorely missing from today’s TV landscape?

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        Yeah, what happened to the good old game shows? I have nothing to watch when I’m sick with a bad cold, which is fortunately seldom. The thing about game shows is there’s good-spirited drama. Who will win, who will lose. It’s not like talk show drama, something that feels dark and voyeuristic to me.

  3. Zara Potts says:

    Oh oh!! The song… The song!!
    I can totally relate to your wanting be on a gameshow.. I’m addicted to them, even now.
    I’m going to have visions of your family practising for the audition all day now..
    (and the song of course…)
    Great, uncomfortable piece Rob!!!

    • Rob Bloom says:

      Yeah, the song. All these years later, I still see that scene in my head so, so, so clearly. Though, it did seem like a good idea at the time…

  4. Lenore Zion says:

    it’s like Little Miss Sunshine, only the horrible dysfunction has been replaced with a humiliating song. awesome.

  5. Matt says:

    Damn, this takes me back. I LOVED DD. I think I asked my parents to sign me up to be a contestant like three birthdays in a row. Completely ignorant of what was involved in that process, of course.

    • Rob Bloom says:

      As much as I loved DD, I would’ve been afraid to have been on the regular version of the show and have my klutziness be responsible for another kid losing the game (and therefore missing out on a winning a trip to Space Camp).

  6. Becky says:

    Ahhh hahahaha.

    I’m so glad my parents weren’t into family activities.

    There was a time I thought it was a bad thing that my dad never wanted to do anything but sit in his chair and fart. That it was unfortunate my mother hated to sweat or interact with people.

    This makes it all seem like a godsend.

    My mother would not have sung for a stranger for a million dollars.

    Ah. Tiny mercies.

    • Rob Bloom says:

      Don’t get the wrong idea. My parents are awesome. They were just willing to do whatever it took for their kid to make a dream come true…even if it meant doing something horribly embarrassing.

      The visual of your dad, sitting in his chair and farting, is fantastic. Tell more!

      • Becky says:

        Well, don’t get me wrong either.

        My dad did more than sit in his chair and fart, but that is all he wanted to do. The creature responsible for the deep, resonant sounds that seemed to come from within the framework of the recliner was called a “Sofa Toad.” And my mom wasn’t the antisocial she might sound like, either. She was just short on patience for her peers. For us kids, she had all the time and patience in the world.

        They, too, did just about anything to make it so I could do whatever I wanted to do, but I have a feeling–nay, I KNOW–that they would have drawn the line at jazz hands.

        • Rob Bloom says:

          I think most families would have drawn the line at jazz hands. In retrospect, I’m surprised we didn’t march into the room wearing tuxes and top hands and twirling canes. Maybe that would’ve required too much coordination.

          Your parents sound great. Not enough patient parents out there.

  7. If you were in my apartment while I was reading this, you’d probably have cleared out, tired of listening to me shout, “YES! OH MAN YESSSS!” in your face over and over, about family clutziness, about watching those game shows (oh man, whammies…no whammies!) and about the ill-fated day of trying too hard.

    The Millers kept it all under wraps though, and never set our sights on stardom. Thank goodness for small mercies…

    • Rob Bloom says:

      Yes! A fellow klutz! Did your family also suffer from allergies? I am so delighted to meet you. The Millers and Blooms sound like a klutz match made in heaven.

      • Amanda says:

        Oh hell, we have allergies locked down. Chocolate? Makes my brother poo funny. Animals and flowers? Bring me out in a devastatingly attractive rash (which is to say nothing of the deep-chest wheeze from rolling in grass at the park, etc). Shellfish and a host of unexpected things? Nearly kill my dad. Cosmetics and perfume? Make my mother itch and swoon.

        Too bad there wasn’t a tandem D.D. show where the lamest-duck families were pitted against one another in a battle royal!

        • Rob Bloom says:

          I repeat: the Millers and Blooms are a klutz match in heaven. I feel your allergy pain. Years of allergy shots growing up didn’t do a damn thing. The pollen each year is just the beginning. Then there’s the dust and mold allergies. Not to mention shellfish. Oh, and stone fruit. That’s a new one that’s developed in recent years. Apples, pears, plums, cherries, they’re all on the list. I actually have a story on TNB about the time I accidentally stabbed myself with my Epipen. The pain was unreal. Needle went right THROUGH my finger.

          By the way, I love your lamest-duck Family Double Dare edition. The fun begins once the contestants put away their inhalers and unplug their portable humidifiers!

        • Amanda says:

          Nice one. Sometime, I’ll share the story about the time I was stung by a bee and was so certain that, since I am allergic to every other damn thing on the planet, I was probably about to die of anaphylactic shock, I stripped off my clothes while screaming about how “this is me dying! gahhhhh!”

          Good times. Goooood times.

        • Rob Bloom says:

          That story is begging for a YouTube recreation. Very glad you survived that traumatic incident.

        • Amanda says:

          OMG…the thing is, (this is the part my “professional” reputation might suffer from…heh…kidding)…the wasp sting resulted from me sitting on the creature…in January a few winters ago…while it hid in sofa cushions at a friend’s house…and I suffered the *worst* hangover of my entire life…where that wasp came from is anyone’s guess…and yes, such a video would garner some Youtube attention, I am sure, hahahaha!

        • Rob Bloom says:

          I’d like to pose this question to the group here:

          where (picture that’s in italics) did the wasp come from?

        • Amanda says:

          Hang on! You best not be suggesting that bee came outta my bum!

          Actually, the whole story is so deranged, and I by no means wish to derail comments and general discussion from your very awesome family tale here. I am very nearly sufficiently inspired that my next TNB essay will be about the bee-sting, its fallout, its precursory behaviour, and how the whole thing rounds out.

          But, seriously, if anyone can answer the riddle of the sudden January bee, I am grateful…

        • Rob Bloom says:

          Fair enough. We will all wait anxiously for that essay about your bee-sting tale. That reminds me, I should probably get a new Epipen.

  8. Irene Zion says:

    Rob,

    Coming from a family that “roughly has the coordination of a pile of mud,”
    and having born another generation with “roughly the coordination of a pile of mud,”
    I empathize.

    I think our family would have been even more embarrassing.
    I think you’re off the hook.

    • Rob Bloom says:

      Oh, Irene. You know how much I love the stories of your family. Now that I’m a father, I’m constantly thinking of ways I can embarrass my son. Sure, he’s only four-months-old now but there’ll be plenty of opportunities down the line to make him cringe. Fair’s fair.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Rob,

        I am totally serious here.
        You start making your list!
        There will come a time, no matter how perfect and adorable he is now and will remain for years, that he will TURN on you!
        You must be prepared with things like naked pictures of his baby butt framed and on the wall, for example. Put him naked on a rug that looks like a bear skin and photograph him. You’ll think it’s an adorable picture anyhow. But you pull that out when he’s in 9th grade or 10th when he’s yanking your chain non-stop and lying about everything just because he can, and you nail that picture to the wall where everyone who comes in the house will see. Somewhere around the kitchen table is good.
        Trust me on this.
        Have I ever led you astray?

        • Irene Zion says:

          I am officially giving up on code.
          ONE word was supposed to be bold.
          Then one other word was supposed to be in italics.
          It’s over.
          Not even going to try again.
          I’m a quitter.

        • Rob Bloom says:

          Code schmode. And I admire the way you quit. Simple, powerful, effective.

          Anyway, thanks for the tips about the photos. We actually hired a photographer for a professional photoshoot a few weeks ago. Most of the shots were great but the photographer did a series where she draped a loin cloth around my son and then placed him in an oversized wooden salad bowl. That should come in real handy in about 10 years.

        • Irene Zion says:

          My oh my but that sounds like a beauty!
          You get that baby framed and on the wall.
          Until you need to use it against him, everyone will get a good laugh out of it.
          And then….
          (You can’t know the satisfaction you will feel, he’s too sweet and perfect now, oh but you will see.)

        • Rob Bloom says:

          On the other hand, my wife and I are already counting on him on taking care of us in our old age. Don’t want to piss him off.

        • Irene Zion says:

          No worries, Rob.
          They only get horribly humiliated when they are nasty little creatures.
          Then they get older and they think it’s funny.
          And, too boot, they think you aren’t stupid anymore.
          You start off smarter than anyone else’s parents, then you are stupider than a box of rocks and they can’t understand HOW they are related in any way to you, and then you suddenly get smart again.
          It’s beautiful to behold.
          Truly.

        • Rob Bloom says:

          Ah, the circle of life. Somebody, cue The Lion King soundtrack.

          Thanks for the words of wisdom (and warning), Irene!

        • Irene Zion says:

          Aw Sweetie,
          I’m ALWAYS ready to talk.
          I’ll still be talking in my coffin as they push me into the fire.

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    “I had expected the bright and vibrant world of Nickelodeon. Instead, I was in the black and white world of Nick at Nite—minus the canned laughter.”

    Loved that line. Also, I too hate sweating. Right there with you.

    You’ve got to love your parents, though. They were really good sports. My family would never have auditioned for “Double Dare”. For one thing, we’d never have watched the show together. My father preferred to force us to sit through hours of Wagner’s “Ring Cycles,” instead. Sigh.

    • Rob Bloom says:

      My parents are great. They actually called me last night to tell me how much they loved the article and about the great memories it brought back. Maybe that’s part of being a parent: doing ridiculous things for your kids and not caring at all that they’re ridiculous.

  10. angela says:

    marni beat me to it! i love that line, and many others as well. and i agree that your parents sound like a blast.

    i loved double dare but more than that, “you can’t do that on television” because i had a crush on alistair. damn that alanis morrisette for stealing him away.

    • Rob Bloom says:

      Oh, Angela. I LOVED “You Can’t Do That on Television.” Loved, loved, loved. That show had a major impact on my life. I actually wrote a fan letter to Les Lye (“Barf” and every other adult male character on the show) when I was a kid. Unfortunately, he didn’t write back. Alistair was quite the badass. Definitely cooler than Lisa or Moose.

  11. Man, this was a tough one to read, Rob. I feel for you, my friend. But hey, look on the bright side. The next time I have a party, I’d love for you and your family to come out to LA and sing “New York, New York” in my living room.

    • Rob Bloom says:

      Thanks, Rich. Let me know when your next party is. But a little advance notice would be great. My family needs some time to write, rehearse, and work on our choreography. The Osmonds, Bradys, and Partridge Family have nothing on the Blooms.

  12. Alison Aucoin says:

    I think you guys were just a ahead of your time. You’d be sheer perfection for a reality show!

    • Rob Bloom says:

      Thanks, Alison! Feel free to forward this story along to any producers you know. And, like I said to Rich above, some advance notice would be great. We’ll need time to practice our choreography.

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