Posted by: nflanders | May 5, 2008

Kleptomaniacal pinhead: Weekly mission excerpt

Yeah, I’m a little behind this week, but I had to go out of town for work, and plus I enjoy watching my sitemeter stat go down to zero. Just kidding.

In this week’s excerpt I’ll talk a bit more about Ford, he of the sobbing companionship prayers and the bath towel on the brownies. In many ways, he was my mission nemesis. We were in the same group in the MTC until he complained about my companion and got us split up and reassigned to different districts. He was a real St. George weirdo. No offense to any St. Georgians in the audience, but you know what I mean. During class at the MTC, he’d go off on weird tangents talking about what a sinner he had been, how he had “taken girls down like a piece of meat.” We were all a little freaked out. As these things inevitably go, the guy I hated most in the world got transferred to my tiny apartment, and I had to do splits with him all the time.

Explanatory notes: We were in a town outside Buenos Aires named Luján, which is famous throughout Argentina as the home of the patron saint of the country, the Virgin of Luján. According to Wikipedia, six million people make the pilgrimage from Buenos Aires (on foot!) each year. As the mecca of Argentine Catholicism, there were hundreds of vendors selling innumerable Virgin tchotchkes outside the cathedral, which I refer to as “idols.” As if our Del Parsons Jesus and replica Christus statues weren’t the same basic thing. 

Anyway, Luján is a nice, quiet little town, so of course we were assigned to an area of unpaved streets in the marginal neighborhoods that had sprung up on the periphery of the city. Also, I should point out that in Spanish, when you say people “son muy fuertes” it actually means you find them very attractive, not that they are very strong. It’s a minor error, but one that’s unusual for a missionary with as much time as Ford to make.

19 December 1997

Splits with Ford. Yet again. First we talked to Amanda, who was actually really cool. She was cutting flowers in her yard; she sells idols at the Cathedral so she can only go to church (ours) when it rains. She can’t read either, but she reacted very well to the discussion. I asked her to get baptized and she said, “Why not?” I was happy. We also gave a discussion I most certainly did not want to give to some semi-cognizant old man in a lingerie/fabric store while the owner (completely uninterested) sat by antsily.

We helped a soda delivery truck out of a ditch of mud it had slipped into. I scraped my arm a bit and barely contributed to the effort. Afterwards Ford informed me that those men “son muy fuertes.” I told him if he liked them, that was his business. The butchering of a perfectly innocent language continues. “Yo llamó.” He showed a tenuous grasp of Spanish the last time we did splits when Claudia Perez said she had to go to a mandato (an errand) and he thought we were having mondongo (intestines).

… the discussion got off to a rocky start when Ford in the Prophets section used a slightly questionable example. “If I’m a prophet and God wants me to speak out on, let’s say, the law of chastity, he’ll tell me, ‘All these fornications have to stop’ and then I’ll tell the people.” I was thinking, what the crap is he doing? But the investigators weren’t fazed and the spirit came back.

We also visited Monica, who gave us cookies and soda. We talked pleasantly with her and her mom, but Ford needed to be beaten with a blunt object for saying things like, “Well, when’s Monica getting married?” and “Your knight in shining armor will come” and finally “Have you prayed and fasted for a husband?” “You just need to look harder.” What a meathead. I felt sorry for her as her mom and Dumber tag-teamed up on her. She’s definitely got some problems, but she’s really nice. She asked us if they checked in our religion if the girl was a virgin before marriage. That sparked an over-long explanation by Ford about fornication and the repentance process and how a fornicator could go to the temple after a year and repentance. Ford also started going off on one of his idiotic tangents and no one followed him there. It was just like the MTC. He started talking about Glocks for some inexplicable reason to a 60-year-old woman and her 40-year-old daughter. “My dad has a Glock and you can throw it around and pound on it with a hammer and throw it under a truck and it will still fire muy, muy acu-ra-te.” I almost felt sorry for the sheer fooliness of the whole thing. He told Monica to go to the ward activity because “your knight will be there.” What a jerk…

An average day. As always, I dread tomorrow.

In the next excerpt, a week later, I am talking to a sister missionary (Andrea) about the “spiritual thought” I shared in District Meeting. I hated doing the spiritual thought, so I had two scriptures that I would always read. One was D&C 136:28:

If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
 
I then advocated that we as missionaries should show our devotion to the Lord by going to dance clubs. I know, it sounds weak, but as missionaries we thought it was hilarious. My second go-to scripture was Luke 19:11-24. This is just a version of the parable of the talents, but our Spanish Bible translated talents or pounds (in the KJV) as “minas,” which is Argentine slang for young women or more colloquially, “chicks.” Thus, Luke 19:20 becomes, “Lord, here is your chick, whom I have hidden in a handkerchief” and Luke 19:24 reads, “Take the chick from him and give her to him who has ten chicks.” I usually closed my spiritual thought with, “Let us be faithful to the Lord, so he does not take our minas and give them to others.” Again, for missionaries, it was the height of hilarity. At this point I had shared both scriptures as a spiritual thought, and I was concerned that I didn’t have any more material if I was called on again. I suppose I probably didn’t have to worry about that happening.
 

27 December 1997

…Oh, Andrea liked the part in the Doctrine and Covenants about dancing. “You read the scriptures?” she asked doubtfully. “No, someone told me where it was.” I got a laugh. “The sad thing is that it’s true,” I said. Bigger laugh. She also marked Luke 19:11-24, the parable of the minas and put my name next to it to remember. Now I don’t know what I’ll do if I actually get assigned the spiritual thought.

For my final excerpt, I’m going forward in time again to a few months after this. Harrison (or Harris, I accidentally changed his pseudonym at some point in these entries) has just left, and I’m trying to adjust to his replacement, Elder Day. Elder Day is a million times better than Harrison, but I felt he was being holier-than-thou in his dealings with me. Whether he actually was or not is certainly up for debate. What is certain is that he had an annoying habit of speaking Spanish in a completely different voice than he spoke English. I don’t know why, but some Elders (Ford did it, too) thought that speaking in high, syrupy voice somehow conducted the “spirit” and would convert people on the spot. I blame years of General Conference watching.

Also, I should explain that although it is different in every mission, in our mission, Zone Leaders were invariably assigned to companions that needed help. Usually, these were guys who had trouble getting along with others, or were a little off, or who just couldn’t adjust to missionary life. I know, I should have been the first to be assigned to a ZL, but somehow I never was. I should point out that Ford, in the first excerpt, was the comp of a ZL, and he was the poster child for being a little off.

22 April 2008

It’s only been a week and already I’m ready to kill him. Only three weeks to go before I’m transferred. It seems an eternity. The guy is completely clueless and his “spirit” act is wearing a bit thin. It scares me that this guy thinks he is a good missionary. He should be with a Zone Leader. Apparently everyone should be with a Zone Leader but me but it’s really true. He may speak Spanish great but he chooses to say incredibly stupid things gramatically correct and I hate his “sweet Spanish voice.”

At the internet place, he was putting his headphones away and I noticed they were United Airlines headphones and I called him on it. “Did you steal those?” I asked. He began to try to justify it, saying that headphones and silverware are included in the price of the plane ticket. This was ludicrous and we began arguing and it turns out he has 3 sets of silverware from his flight down. What a thief. I wouldn’t care but for the fact he claims to be spirit boy and then tries to justify stealing everything but the life-vest under the seat. And he probably has that in his suitcase. No wonder his bags are so heavy.

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Posted by: nflanders | April 23, 2008

Stabbing Jesus – Weekly Journal Excerpt

This week my journal was not all that interesting, so I picked up a different volume (I told you I wrote a lot!) and found something at random that I liked. This takes place just a few months before my previous excerpts. I live out in the boonies with my comp, Elder Ford. At the time, I thought Ford was very devout, but in actuality he was just as conflicted as me. He is the only companion I still keep in touch with. He’s also left the church, but when I tried to proselyte to him about the DAMU, he didn’t seem very interested. Maybe I’ll leave him a pamphlet.

Other explanatory notes: we live in a one bedroom apartment with two of the most annoying elders I ever had the displeasure of meeting: Alvarez (the Zone Leader) and Jefferson. Jefferson deserves a whole book because he was one messed up dude. He was one of those elders with lots of “past transgressions” who seemed to be trying extra hard to be the perfect missionary. It’s always the reformed sinners that are the zealots. Whenever he’d teach a discussion, his voice would get all high-pitched because he thought that General Conference tone would bring the Spirit. Despite his self-righteousness and policing other people’s behavior, he was also one hell of a baker. He was constantly baking delicious things and sharing them with the zone. I still dream about his orange rolls.

Cliff and Jared are other missionaries in the zone with whom we often do splits. Andrea and Wilma (her real name!) are both Latina sister missionaries. Wilma is a local member doing a month-long mini-mission and Andrea is from Chile. Final explanatory note: Argentines are still quite angry about the war over the Falkland Islands that they fought with Britain in 1982. Argentina still claims sovereignty over the Falklands, but refers to them as “Las Malvinas.” Place names are endlessly recycled so there are neighborhoods and even cities called “Las Malvinas” in the province of Buenos Aires. Enjoy:  

16 December 1997

…the nice memories of today clash harshly with the bleak prospects of tomorrow and the annoyingness of my housemates. Jefferson and Alvarez’s nightly prayer was a spectacle tonight as Jefferson was crying and loudly sobbed out his prayer…

17 December 1997

…I warned Cliff and Jared and Andrea about the brownies as Jefferson for some inexplicable reason last night as they were cooling put Alvarez’s bath towel right on top of them and left it till morning. Disgusting. I didn’t eat any brownies. Cliff ate even after I told him. Jared and Andrea declined to eat more after I warned them. I was tempted but I kept strong. A lot of free time to joke around with the sister missionaries but I fear I am going too far. I guess the whole teasing thing is kind of childish, but I just try to get laughs out of them. My jokes went over flat with Jared.

The meeting was okay, I guess. Alvarez did something cool for once; he had this thick cardboard sheet and he went around and had us stab our sins into the cardboard slab. So everyone just laid into it and slashed away and it was fun. Then he pulls out the picture of Jesus that was inside, all stabbed and slashed and said that Jesus took upon him all our sins. I thought it was cool. Everyone was so shocked when he pulled out the mutilated picture of Jesus. I let out a cry of impressment.

I told Wilma, “The mini-mission is good so you can see that you don’t want to do the big one.” She is crazy missing Christmas and New Years when she lives just a couple of train stops away. I don’t know if I would do it. I throw a lot of respect her way just for that. And when I was thinking this earlier, the thought came to me, “Well, you’re doing the same-but longer.” “But I have to,” came the reply in my mind. “Who told you you had to?” “A prophet of God.” It  wasn’t optional. But what she’s doing is quite optional and quite avoidable.

I was talking with Andrea and she asked me why I came on the mish. I told her first that I was being paid, but then I told her I didn’t have any place to be. “I thought…” and I paused here, not exactly wanting to bare my soul for someone who I barely know and probably in private dislikes me. “I thought it would be different.”  What I didn’t say was that I thought I would change for the better, I thought I’d return a different person. I was running away from myself on a superficial level because when the daily grind comes down on me, I want to stay who I am and not change at all. Of course, I couldn’t tell Andrea that so I said I came to pick up chicks…

18 December 1997

We walked off to a mess of dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, technically called “Malvinas”…Cliff sometimes doesn’t know where to draw the line, which he demonstrated by asking the Stake Mission Counselor when they were going to change the name of the neighborhood to “Falklands.” Not too funny, just uncomfortable.

We missed the train of course, and thus had to take the bus home. We were trying to figure out how to get home. Andrea told us that Jefferson and Alvarez had already left on the last train until 3 or so and that we might as well wait for the train at 3:30 with them. But Wilma informed us that we could take any #52 bus out to Lujan. And Andrea said, “Why did you tell them? They would have had to wait with us for the train.” “Better that they go,” said Wilma. As we were walking out of the station, Andrea offered me one of their sandwiches. I told her she shouldn’t share because people are just bad and take and take and take. “People like…” and I trailed off here. “Like what?” “People like me,” I said. I asked her if she had put her bath towel on top of the sandwiches. “No.” “Well then, maybe I’ll have one,” I said, provoking laughs from both Wilma and Andrea. But I had realized seconds earlier that the reason I didn’t like receiving free stuff from people is because I like to live the Golden Rule and for my part to be justifiable, I have to want that others give me nothing. Worse was the guilt of knowing I wouldn’t have done the same thing for them. That is definitely the worst…It was nice of them to offer but in the end I did not accept.

 We parted from the sisters and came home and ordered a pizza since I didn’t feel like cooking. Thankfully, Ford let me have one of his pieces since I was still hungry and he was not. We still had 30 minutes left of lunch so I read the newspaper in my bed waiting till Ford would come get me. But he fell asleep on Alvarez’s bed and time dragged on and I didn’t want to wake him up. It was 5pm and then 6pm and I got dressed to get ready to leave and listened to my walkman. A salesman came by. The Red Cross came by. Then Ford went into the bathroom for like an hour or so. He came out and sat on his bed. Something is definitely wrong with him. Not that I mind sleeping the siesta. On the contrary. But it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t fit into his character. At least with my previous companion I knew why we were staying in and could count on it but this was just weird. We didn’t leave until 8pm… I thought it was kind of funny as I was thinking about sharing too much with Andrea that sometimes we share our most intimate secrets with people we barely know just because they don’t understand what secret has been casually plopped in their lap.

I’m going to call this final excerpt “Ned and the wise man…”

I don’t want to downplay the problem of alcoholism, especially in nations with high unemployment, but missionaries probably aren’t the most qualified judges of it. Compounding this problem is that often the only people who actually want to talk to the missionaries are drunk. For this reason, we missionaries were very dismissive of anyone we considered a drunk or anyone who bought the Argentine drunk’s favorite wine, Pico de Oro. Pico de Oro comes in a box and is extremely cheap, hence it’s popularity with poor people and alcoholics. It’s the cheapest form of booze this side of rubbing alcohol. (Tangent: Chileans find Pico de Oro hilarious, because “pico” is Chilean slang for penis; so it translates as “Golden Penis.” Add to this that, colloquially, drinking was often called “sucking”, as in, “he was sucking down that wine” and you have unlimited comic possibilities.) Anyway, here is my conversation with a very wise man. And yes, Pico de Oro did have a Christmas tie-in edition of their box wine, much like Coca-Cola, that featured Santa Claus on the box.

20 December 1997

Talked to some drunk. Very old, carrying his Pico de Oro home from the kiosco. “You don’t drink wine?” “No,” I said. “What do you drink then?” “Coke – the best. It’s living water,” I told him. “No, Coke has drugs in it like caffeine but the vino is natural. It only has some alcohol in it.” “Yeah, and your liver will be about this big,” I said. Then I asked if he had the new Christmas Pico which has Santa on the front, drinking down a big glass of wine. He was surprised to discover it did indeed have that on the cover. Then he said, “If Santa Claus drinks wine, why shouldn’t I?” “You shouldn’t follow the example of Santa Claus,” I told him. He told us about a schoolmate of his who didn’t drink or smoke or womanize and died at 26 of a heart attack, as opposed to him, who did all that and was 70 now. “Why not?” he said. I asked if he was happy. He said yes, but I don’t believe it.

Of course I didn’t believe it. How could he be happy if he was drinking (cue scary music) WINE! Of course, if he was actually an alcoholic, then he probably wasn’t very happy, but I don’t think I was a very good judge of that back then. He might have just been an old guy buying the only wine he could afford to drink with his meal. And I know for a fact that he was happier than I was at that moment. So who should have been lecturing whom, I ask you?

                                      Pico de Oro

Posted by: nflanders | April 16, 2008

Weekly Journal Excerpt: Not So Holy Week

This week in Ned’s diary we have some discussion of baseball baptisms, Mormons ignoring Easter, and a healthy dose of complaints about my companion! I want to stress that I wrote all these entries in the heat of the moment, and that I was no picnic to be with either, and that notwithstanding, my companion probably deserved all he got in these pages.

It was Holy Week, which at least gave the days some flavor, and we finally found out that Harrison was being transferred. Hallelujah!

Anyway, here are the explanatory notes needed for this entry: it is a time-honored tradition to say farewell to the people you baptized in an area the day before you leave, which is why we visited our recent convert Mabel on the 14th. Enjoy:

10 April 1998

Passover. I am about to wet the door lintel with my companion’s blood if he gets his chocolate-smudged fingers all over my new Midnight Oil tape. It was $5; I couldn’t resist…

11 April 1998

…We visited the Bishop’s wife. She was cool and chilled with us and gave us cookies. She told us how she was a missionary in Rosario and found people who had been baptized years earlier at barbeques thrown by the Mission President, who she refused to name because he’s now a General Authority. They had barbeques and some member brought people in his delivery truck. While they ate, the missionaries suggested they get baptized in the pool conveniently located on the premises, and they filled out the forms and baptized them right there. She wondered what God did with those people baptized without understanding…

12 April 1998

A perfect day – weather-wise that is – otherwise one of the most miserable…

Went to church. It was Easter today, allegedly, but just another boring day of church…

13 April 1998

Easter Monday, supposedly. I could never understand exactly what Easter Monday is except that it is some perverse Canadian holiday…

14 April 1998

Easter Tuesday. Last day of work with Harrison. Mercifully.

We visited Mabel who was understandably distraught that he was leaving, but she took it rather well, I thought. She seems to be doing much better. She was more concerned that Harrison was going to Aldo Bonzi because she thinks it is dangerous, and he got a kick out of playing it up. He told her, “There are slums there too. And we have to go in to visit members.” When we found out, though, he almost cried when he found out there were slums and that he would have a Latin companion. Racist bastard… Mabel asked if I was sad. I nodded yes to help protect her fantasy image of the missionaries. A nice, yet rather demanding piece of acting that nod. I mean, the guy’s an idiot and ignorant and intolerant and closed-minded but the thing that really bothered me … was his incessant arse-kissing of the A.P. in a desperate attempt to climb a little higher on the greased pole of mission bullshit. And he just happened to step on my head on his way up in a very deliberate way. The mission hasn’t taught me many things but it has taught me to hate. Oh, to hate. But even as I write these nasty, mean words I no longer feel them. I guess I don’t hate the guy, I just prefer not to be in close proximity to him because of a lack of compatibility. I’m just kind of indifferent, which is a good thing. If he died and I found his stiff, rigor-mortised body on the bottom bunk tomorrow morning at 12 when I finally awoke, it probably wouldn’t bother me too much. Nothing gained, nothing lost…

Wow, I was a jerk! This is the last we’ll see of Harrison, so I should say that he probably wasn’t as bad as I remember, but I don’t really believe that. Witness the following entry from March 8, 1998. This is how he treated a church member! We had somehow finagled our way into joining the Sister missionaries at their lunch appointment with their Ward Mission Leader. I vividly remember this lunch, because during it Harrison strongly insinuated to the WML that his teenage daughters were having sex with their boyfriends. This, unaccountably, didn’t rate a mention in my journal. I want to reiterate here that Harrison is the Senior Companion, as well as the District Leader. I should also mention that this area of Buenos Aires has a large Jewish population (and the only kosher McDonald’s outside of Israel) and we had a couple members of our ward who were Jewish.

I just make fun of Harrison because it bothers me how poorly he speaks Spanish. They never should have sent him to a foreign-speaking mission but the language barrier helps mask his endemic racism and bigotry. But I’m not bitter-really! … At one point before lunch, Harrison gruffly asked our host, “So, are you a Jew?” in the tone of voice you ask someone to get out of your way. And then during lunch, he pulled a sword out of the guy’s coat of arms on the wall and couldn’t get it back in. I could have killed him. And after all this, he had the chutzpah to demand a ride to church from the guy when it was clear he wasn’t offering. I was embarrassed… The Mission Leader’s wife brought out a tray of jewelry for us to buy if we wanted, but since it was Mormon-themed, it really didn’t excite me too much. The tacky “Together Forever” rings or, even cheesier, the “real silver” Argentina Mission tie clips. Yeah, like I’d be caught dead in one of those babies. And there were rings made out of Angel Moroni. At this point I wanted my name taken off the rolls of the church. This mission is trying to snuff out the dying embers of a testimony I never had.

If I was forced to rank my mission companions, Harrison would definitely be at least tied for worst. I don’t mean to give him a bad rap, but the dude was not bright. And he was a racist. And that was the extent of his personality.

I gave him the pseudonym “Harrison” because his real last name is so distinctive that he’d find this blog for sure, assuming someone showed him how to turn on a computer and explained what the plastic keys were for. I googled him last week and saw that he’s become a pharmacist. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start double-checking all my prescriptions.

I Will Survive! (taken April 14, 2008 )

You knew it was coming. I took the above photo today, April 14th, and the cake is still going strong. I should have taken this picture at a better angle so you could see its twin behind it, but I was afraid of arousing too much suspicion. I wish this freezer case weren’t so close to the check-out lanes.

For the record, this is how old the cake is:

  • 6 months and 26 days
  • 17,971,200 seconds
  • 299,520 minutes
  • 4992 hours
  • 208 days
  • 29 weeks

 

If this were a baby, it would be in its third trimester. I’m putting this freezer on bed rest until July, especially since it’s carrying (pumpkin) twins.

Back on March 25th, during a visit to the cake with Maude (she humors my obsession), she pointed out that they still had Friendly’s Christmas-themed ice-cream rolls, a.k.a. “Jubilee Rolls”:

 (taken March 25, 2008 )

(They look disgusting don’t they? No wonder they couldn’t sell them before Christmas.)

So when I went back today, I thought I’d take an updated pic of the Jubilee Rolls and see if they lasted until autumn. I looked, and they were gone! I refuse to believe that anyone bought 8 Jubilee Rolls between March 25th and April 14th. Does that mean they are tossing out the Christmas merchandise but leaving the Halloween cakes? Chilling.

Finally, here is a picture I took on March 25th, two days after Easter:

Happy Halloween, Resurrected Jesus! (taken March 25, 2008 )

It’s hard to tell from this shot, but the cake in the upper-left corner is an Easter egg cake. You’ll recognize our friend in the bottom-right corner. I thought it was an especially appropriate way to contrast the celebration of resurrection with immortality. It’s been two and a half weeks, and when I checked the freezer today, the egg cake was nowhere to be seen. (Ascended up to heaven? Visiting other sheep?) I think we’ve been worshipping during the wrong holiday.

Posted by: nflanders | April 8, 2008

Ned’s Weekly Journal Excerpt: Hollandaised

 

Okay, I’ve decided to stop apologizing and just do one weekly post from my mission journal. Every Tuesday, I’ll excerpt the best and most embarrassing parts from the previous week’s entries for your amusement. I’ll do it from now until August, which is when I finally came home. August is also when Maude is due, so I won’t have any time to do this after that anyway.

So here is my third weekly installment of the Ned’s Wacky Mission Journal. I’ll call this first excerpt “Ned the Prophet” since everything I predicted pretty much came true.

5 April 1998 (Sunday)

As I sat, enduring church as usual, I thought to myself how inevitable inactivity was for me and how I will be perfectly happy never ever setting foot in a church again and marrying a Catholic girl and living in peace by myself. I knew I was wasting my time here … I really should go home if I no longer believe; no one would have anything to say and besides, it would relieve me of a lot of responsibility. I would no longer be a “returned missionary” and thus assumed to be firm in the faith, but rather a screw-up guy who came home early. I’d never have to have a calling or even be active and mom and dad would get that resigned face and say, “Well, there’s nothing more we can do.” I was content and tranquil and even thought I’d wait until I had just one month left and then go home, just to prove I could stick it out but chose not to… There is no shame in not believing. But a little later in Sunday School…they said something about two laws that were before the creation of the earth are in effect now and for all eternity. And I got to thinking about eternity and how I wanted to be with my girlfriend forever and not just for a couple years till I kick the bucket. And this is the only church that offers me that. To get that, do I have to put up with all the BS and crap and meetings and endure all this torture? I have a halfway belief which is logically impossible… I don’t want to do all this church stuff now, let alone for the rest of my life. Yet at the same time I don’t want to be ripped apart from those I love and be alone in hell for all eternity. Is it really dependent on obedience to this arbitrariness? I can’t believe that. I mean, I believe a lot of church priniciples, just not the church… If I’m inactive, I won’t drink, smoke or poke, but I also won’t conform to this police state of deluded happiness of brainwashed closemindedness. I need to figure all this crap out… I know that when I’m sick and in unbearable pain, the first thing I do is pray and magically reacquire faith in God. From primal necessity. It must turn His stomach. I know someday I will need Him, so how hypocritical and false can I be by rejecting Him now? But am I? I just don’t believe what we’re doing is “his way” as everyone pompously proclaims it. I see only confusion and hypocrisy and fallacy and clumsy blundering and pompous posturing and it all turns my stomach…

Wow, what a fun guy to be with, no? Anyway, I did get married to a non-member and I only attended church about 5 or 6 more times in my life. It’s surprising to me that I had almost thought my way out and then the “families can be forever” stuff dragged me back in. 

On to the next excerpt! I was terrible with money on the mission. We only got $120 a month to live on, which had to cover transportation, laundry, and food. I drank entirely too much Coca-Cola, and so by the end of the month, I was just scraping by. This area was even worse for me because it was fairly close to downtown Buenos Aires and we had a Burger King in our area. Whoppers only cost $1.50, but that’s not such a great deal if you eat more than one. Bear in mind that all the elders and me are rail-thin; we’re not allowed to eat dinner so lunch is our only substantive meal of the day. Also, this week we had two visiting elders sharing our area with us, which meant half the time we didn’t get lunch with a member. This really put a strain on my finances. That and my terrible spending habits. Watch Ned come perilously close to financial ruin:

4 April 1998

…we went to Burger King and bought 7 Whoppers. I ate three of them and Leon four…I spent $2.60 just on bus fare today, plus Burger King, plus the $5 Depeche Mode tape = I am broke…

6 April 1998

…We walked to Burger King and got lunch. I ate four Whoppers and we had to leave again. Still nothing so we ate some ice cream. I got a half-kilo. A good day food-wise but rather miserable otherwise…

7 April 1998

…it appears that I can’t even do wash tomorrow as the Finance elder wasn’t there to cash my check, which means I’m screwed. I have enough money to get to District Meeting tomorrow and back. No more…

8 April 1998

The day was actually a good day for once. Of course, it was P-day, so what can you expect? … We just had the Breakfast of Champions and the egg toss and the egg nose roll which was so hard I didn’t even try it. We played a lot of soccer which was fun though I had limited success. Hansen soaked me in the waterballoon fight and so did Sister Johnson but it was fun. Elder Roman cracked an egg (left over from the egg toss) on Sister Toby in a rare display of badness. After we had finished eating the cakes that the sisters made, I overheard Sister Johnson offering Harris 5 bucks to smash two eggs on his head. “We have two eggs left and I didn’t get to get anyone,” she said. I had $1.35 on my person at this time so I eagerly volunteered. “I need the money!” I said. I’ll take 5 bucks for swallowing my pride any day.

So the whole zone came out to watch in front of the church and Sister Johnson says, “The deal was I can smash two eggs on his head for 5 dollars, right?” And the zone cried, “Yes!” So she smashes one egg on my head and throws the other to the ground and runs away. No $5 and a head full of egg. It was so humiliating. I couldn’t move or I’d get egg all over my favorite t-shirt so I just sat bent over, dripping egg and the zone laughing at me. Then they just left me and I had to call after Leon to get me some paper towels. There is no feeling quite as alone as that moment, like all life gathered together and smacked you with an egg on your face. Humilliated down to the ground. And the thing that hurt most was the 5 bucks. I really needed the 5 bucks and I felt taken advantage of in my poverty. A dirty trick; I don’t think I’d do it to someone else, but what can you do? If I dish it out, which I pride myself on (though all is strictly verbal), I have to take it, but it doesn’t make it any easier… “It’s good for your hair,” I heard literally seven or so times along with “Omelette!” and “French toast!”

Too freaking funny. Kind of messed up, too. Anyway, the reason I said it was a good day at the beginning of the entry was because I got a bunch of email from my friends that night and the Finance elder in the office finally cashed my check and I was able to do laundry that evening anyway. And I don’t think it helped my hair one bit.

Posted by: nflanders | April 3, 2008

10 Songs, No Cheating

ipod-big.jpgI think we’ve all done that meme where you list 10 random songs that come up on your iPod. However, like everyone else, I’m guilty of massaging my list a bit. I never make anything up, but sometimes I’ll skip a song that comes up if Maude is the one who uploaded it, or if the 10 songs don’t really reflect my taste, I might start over and hope for a better draw the next time.

With this meme, it is the same, however there is no cheating allowed. A chapter from an audiobook comes up? It still goes on the list. Podcast? On the list. Kelly Clarkson CD that you didn’t tell anyone you downloaded from iTunes? On the list! No reshuffling or starting over is allowed. Also, you need to say something about each of the songs that comes up.

I, Ned, promise that I will not alter my list in any way, nor have I been saving up a particularly good first 10 random songs. So, let me grab my iPod, hold my breath, and let’s do this.

1. “This Is Not an Exit” – Saves the Day. Frick. Well this is what I get for promising complete honesty. I bought this album off the strength of “At Your Funeral” but it doesn’t get heavy rotation. This song isn’t bad, I’m just not passionate about it. Saves the Day always reminds me of my sophomore college roomate, Mike from New Jersey. He was straight-edge and very nice. He only listened to vinyl but he wasn’t pretentious. And he returned my Smiths Louder Than Bombs LP when he accidentally took it home with him. I miss you, Mike!

2. “Believe” – The Bravery. The Bravery are horribly over-exposed but I don’t care. I like them in spite of the fact that I have to hear parts of their songs in car commercials. The Bravery always remind me of my crappy temp job at a garbage company a year or two ago. I was so stressed out by Friday that on the way home I’d always blast “Unconditional” by the Bravery on the car stereo to try to let off some steam. That was the only job I ever physically dreaded going to. On to happier thoughts!

3. “Church” – Outkast. Yeah, it’s the one rap group that everyone likes, but still, they’re good. I guess this is an appropriate song for Ned Flanders’ list. It’s probably the only song on my iPod that advocates going to church. “If you feel that left behind, you need to get up and go to church.” Of course, in Outkast’s movie Idlewild, “Church” was the name of the speakeasy, which gives this song a whole different spin, huh? 

4. “B.O.B.” – Outkast. Two songs in a row by the same artist? See, here’s where I might have been less than honest in the past and just hit next. I only have 3 Outkast albums, so it’s pretty anomalous that TWO songs would come up, especially back to back. I remember the first time I heard this song was when I had a subscription to CMJ and they included a CD of new somewhat indie-ish music every month. This was on one of the CDs. Eventually I let the subscription lapse because a lot of that stuff just isn’t very good. Sometimes there’s a reason someone hasn’t been discovered.

5. “Still Ill” – The Smiths. This is my second-favorite song of all time (right behind “I Know It’s Over” by the Smiths). I still get goosebumps every time I hear it. This is actually a bootleg live version of the song from the Smiths last concert. Sniff. Terrible sound quality, but it doesn’t even matter. God, I love Morrissey. “If you must go to work tomorrow, well if I were you I wouldn’t bother / For there are brighter sides to life and I should know because I’ve seen them, but not very often.” This song is too good to remind me only of a specific time.

6. “Forever Yellow Skies” – The Cranberries. Another one I might have been tempted to skip. I really liked their second album, but this one (To the Faithful Departed) was just okay. This song reminds me of my mission when we would go to the Carrefour in San Martin in Buenos Aires and they had CD listening stations. Much to my companions chagrin, I couldn’t help but put the headphones on for a little while. This CD was one of the choices. “Hurry up! A member might see us!” Good times.

7. “Re-Hash” – Gorillaz. I’m starting to think that Damon Albarn can do no wrong. I love Blur, Gorillaz, and The Good, The Bad & The Queen. This song is just okay though. It doesn’t have any strong memory attachments for me.

8. “She’s Hearing Voices” – Bloc Party. I absolutely loved Bloc Party’s first album. At the time it was kind of reassuring that I could still like new music even into my late 20s. This song reminds me of going through the import singles at the Virgin Megastore in New York City, looking for Bloc Party b-sides.

9. “Invincible” – Muse. Maude is the big Muse fan, but she didn’t like this album. I think it’s better than their earlier stuff. I usually listen to Muse at work when I just need to zone out and not get wrapped up in what I’m listening to. This song is pretty good.

And last but not least: 

10. “Dr. Dedoverde” – Cypress Hill. I’m not a big Cypress Hill fan, but for this album of greatest hits, they translated and re-recorded every song in Spanish. I think they’re better in Spanish even if sometimes the words don’t fit the English rhyme scheme. “Medio loco en el coco” just isn’t a good translation of “insane in the brain.” But what is, really? This is another good song to listen to at work that can wake me up and work a bit faster.

That’s it. No cheating. Obviously, the randomness missed a huge chunk of my musical taste (where is the Pulp? I must have at least 200 Pulp songs on there) but it also missed all the opera and books on tape that I was concerned it might dredge up. Never mind Kelly Clarkson (that’s Maude’s, I swear!).

If you actually read all this, consider yourself tagged.

Posted by: nflanders | April 2, 2008

The Next P-Day: April 2, 1998

I swear this blog isn’t going to turn into Ned reminisces about his mission endlessly. However, I had to transcribe one more passage out of my mission journal, and since it was exactly ten years ago today, I figure what the hell. Tune in tomorrow for a completely Mormon-free post and a meme to boot! For those who can take another journal entry, you can follow below.

I’m going to try to transcribe this passage without any explanatory notes. They’re helpful, but I think they really take you out of the moment. First of all, I want to stress that even though I was trying to be sarcastic and funny, I still feel ick when I read this (you’ll see what part). At the time, I was trying to make fun of the Mormon cultural expectation to get married when you’re 22, but it doesn’t quite come out that way. 21-year-old Ned wasn’t smart enough to recognize that other people besides him a) existed and b) were under the same enormous pressures of Mormonism. He was similarly oblivious to the fact that women in the Mormon church have it ten times worse, since it’s a hell of a lot easier to go along with a kooky religion when it relentlessly privileges your gender. (Whoa, I’m sounding too much like Todd here.) Anyway, I pre-apologize and am embarrassed for what I wrote.

To set the scene, it’s the next P-Day and we’re having our weekly meeting with about 8 elders and 4 sisters.  Each week we have a workshop that focuses on improving missionary skills. In retrospect, my former companion Elder Roman probably picked this workshop for me in particular since I didn’t have a great attitude. It’s funny that I seem to have no inkling of this (see obliviousness above). Sister Mataderos is a convert from Argentina, so I don’t include her in my (insulting) suggestion that the sister missionaries have been brainwashed (I’m not sure why I don’t count myself among the number of brainwashed). Sister Woods I mentioned last week. I have a crush on her, but I feel guilty about it because I have someone at home, so we have more of a pigtail-pulling-on-the-playground type vibe going on. I’m friends with most of the sisters, since I don’t get along with about half of the elders.

We had the dumb little meeting as usual and endured an hour-long workshop with Elder Roman who wanted to keep going even longer but we were all tired. The workshop was on why we were on a mission. Kind of a pointless thing if you ask me but I think the foolio was more looking for a platform to preach from. He went around the circle asking why we were on a mission. Oh boy. The sisters have some weird ideas. First, all of them (except Sister Mataderos of course) have been brainwashed since they were little kids to want to go on a mission. And then Sister Toby says she came to learn how to be a better mother and wife. I think it’s a little premature to have these concerns but these are Mormon women for heaven’s sake and everyone knows the sister missionaries aren’t getting any younger. This reason (or should I say reasons) was repeated by all the sisters, with Sister Woods adding that she wanted to get married to a returned missionary. Por favor. She’s been so sheltered in her life it’s sick. She gets offended by the word “freak.” Give me a fucking break. But anyway. Someone will laugh at my jokes. They cost only my soul to tell but I don’t care. When it was my turn to say why I was on the mission, I opted for a half lie. I said, “I came to improve myself so I can be a better mother and wife and be worthy for a returned elder worthy of me.” I got it off with a pretty straight face. They prodded for a serious response but I wasn’t going to tell them I was here because my bishop tricked me into believing in me. Besides, I hate when people ask that question because the old reasons are never the current ones and are 1 1/2 years old. Reasons that one is not always proud of and so why must we dwell on the distant and homely past? Instead ask what is it keeping us here and if it hasn’t changed well then freaking great. They said, “C’mon, c’mon” but Harris sitting next to me was eager to start his diatribe, which actually was rather sad because basically what he said was that his parents made him want to go. Or should I say forced him to want to go. Inculcate? Is that the word? Maybe. That’s the same word all the Catholics here use to describe why they’re Catholic. “Because that’s the way my parents raised me.” And my comp is no different. And neither am I but at least I don’t get mad at people for being the same type of fool and coward I am. Pointless workshop but Sunstone would eat it up for sheer anecdotal evidence of brainwashing.

I should mention that I had never read a Sunstone in my life; I only knew it by its reputation in my house. My parents considered it Satan’s official periodical, which meant of course that I was dying to read it. Also, I don’t think Sunstone needs any additional evidence that Mormonism puts a lot of pressure on people to get married young.

The last part of the entry refers to something that always bothered me on my mission. I had so many companions, even the nice ones, that would get physically upset when people rejected us. They were like, “I gave up two years of my life, flew half-way around the world for you, and you have the gall to ignore me?!?” I never understood this. We were constantly asking people to do the one thing we were never willing to do or even contemplate: abandon the religion we grew up with. Even back then I realized they were more like us than we wanted to admit.

Posted by: nflanders | March 27, 2008

Cinnamon Toast Crime Scene

I’d like to have a chat with the person who thought this was a good idea:

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(Do you think there are cereal executives? Someone in a power suit whose business card reads “Executive in Charge of Fruity Pebbles”?)

Who is this supposed to appeal to? Four-year-olds who watch CSI: Miami or stoned teenagers with the munchies? I didn’t notice the box when I bought the cereal; I only noticed after I had poured myself a bowl and looked down and saw this:

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Here, let me zoom in for you:

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 Why are there fingerprints on my cereal?!? This is weird, right? It’s not just me? To me, cereal that’s been touched all over doesn’t sound very appetizing. Plus, if the police are dusting for fingerprints, there’s probably a sheet over a dead body close by. At least, that’s what years of watching Law & Order have taught me.

Who knew that all this time we’ve been wasting the blank canvas of our Cinnamon Toast Crunch, when it could have been teaching our kids the three different ridge patterns of fingerprints?

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 (Actually, I already knew that even before I ate the cereal. Yeah, that’s right, Ned earned the fingerprinting merit badge.)mrtbdg.gif

I, for one, will sleep easier tonight knowing that thousands of future Homeland Security Agents got their inspiration from their bowl of cereal this morning.

Plus, I have to admit, the Cinnamon Toast Crunch was pretty damn good, creepy fingerprints and all.

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Posted by: nflanders | March 25, 2008

March 25, 1998

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I realize there is no faster way to drive someone away from a post-Mormon blog than to say, “I’m going to share part of my mission journal with you…”

That being said, I’m going to share part of my mission journal with you. (Cue furious clicks away from this page.) I may have mentioned this before, but I wrote volumes and volumes on my mission, most likely to keep from going completely insane. I never missed a day after my second week in the MTC.

Anyway, I thought I’d see what I wrote exactly ten years ago on this date, and see if it was embarrassing enough to post on my blog. Sure enough, I think it is. Perhaps a little too embarrassing. I hadn’t read this thing in a long, long time, so I didn’t remember what a pain in the ass I was. Frankly, it’s a miracle my various companions didn’t murder me in my sleep. Also, I can’t transcribe the entire entry because it is seriously four and a half college-ruled pages of tight scribbling (see above photo). That’s just a typical day in my journal. Sad. I think this entry has it all: wasting time, lying about stats, judging my companion for not praying the right way, thinking other people are unhappy because they don’t have the wonderfulness of Mormonism, and yet being totally miserable myself.

Anyhoo, to set the stage for you, at this point in my mission I have less than five months to go and I’m burned out. Big time. And I hate my companion, Elder Harris. Big time. (Some names have been changed to protect me!) Enjoy:

25 March 98

P-Day. Thank goodness. Actually it was kind of fun except for the actual [district] meeting when Harris went off in a huffy manner about how the datos [weekly statistics of number of hours worked, discussions given, etc.] were instituted of Jesus and blah blah blah. [Some background: my companion Harris, the District Leader, was about to wrap up the weekly review of everyone’s stats (in reality a shaming mechanism to make sure no one is slacking) by saying the rote “InthenameofJesusChristAmen” when I yelled out, “The statistics have nothing to do with Jesus Christ.” He then proceeded to give us a five-minute lecture on how missionary statistics were instituted by Jesus through his representatives, the General Authorities.] Oh, something from yesterday that I forgot…we brought home the pizza and Harris went off in the other room and I started chowing down. He joined me and after eating half a slice asked if the food was blessed. “In my own way.” “What’s your way?” “Well, I sat down and started eating.” He looked at his slice like it was poison and closed his eyes for five seconds and resumed eating. “Yeah, like that five seconds helps anything,” I said. What would the difference have been had I blessed it or not? He wasn’t going to give thanks if I already had and how much thanks can you give in the split-second interval? I mean he prays at night lying down with his arms propping him up. Por favor.

Gladis [a sister missionary formerly in my zone, real first name!] wrote me; a big surprise. Andrea [another sister formerly in my zone; people I liked I called by their first names] must have told her I wasn’t doing so well because it said, “[Flanders], you are not an apostate, you are a person who can’t stand hypocrisy.” She was half right. Today in district meeting I realized I didn’t believe in anything anymore. I don’t believe in blessing food. I don’t believe in their prayers. I never listen anyway, I’m too busy looking around.  I hate hymns, meetings, leaders, rules, datos, charlas [discussions], missionaries, members, everything. I no longer have a testimony and if it weren’t for the fact that I have approximately 132 days left, I would probably go home because I’m just wasting my time. Everything bothers me. Nothing matters. Nothing at all. And the realization of this in district meeting sunk me down to new depths of depression.

The thing in the dato section [the portion of district meeting devoted to discussing each companionship’s numbers] that pissed me off was that they criticized the sister missionaries for not getting the goal of trucho charlas [street contacts] when they gave away three and four Books of Mormon–as much as the rest of the zone put together. They [the ZL and DLs] encourage being trucho [fake, i.e. having large numbers of low-quality street contacts]. And Harris said it was our fault we were the only area without investigators in the chapel. “We have to improve this.” It was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. I suggested free choripan [sausage served in a piece of bread, quite delicious]. I was under the impression we were always trying to get investigators in the chapel but apparently it’s just a decision we have to make. My companion was being a verga [no translation needed] all while we were there … We also had [Elder] Roman’s breakfast of champions: Oreos, milk, sugar, toddy [chocolate milk mix]. I drank almost a liter of milk. It was darn good and the zone had fun while doing it. Today was a good day for the zone because we were all together…

Football [soccer] was fun; I had [Elder] Martinez on my team so we won a lot… Then we switched teams so Harris could win. He is way too competitive. I just wanted to have fun, which I did. I told [Sister] Woods, “You can’t guard me that close; it’s against the rules.” She said something about my lack of concern for rules. “Oh, that’s right. I don’t believe in rules.” … I am so starved for human company and depressed. I need someone to confide in but everyone’s so far away and I can’t remember the last time someone hugged me that wasn’t an Elder…

…anyway I went out [every P-Day we had to pair off and make as many street contacts as possible] with Leon and tried to tell him about my incredulity towards everything but it just wasn’t the same. We were assigned the park [Parque de los Patricios] and just walked around it twice… We were laughing most of the time so we didn’t give lots of charlas [street discussions]. The fact that it was freezing cold and 10:00 AM didn’t help either. There were very few people there. This morning it was so freaking cold, like winter, but I figured it’d warm up once the sun was out a while so I just had my short-sleeve shirt on. I froze, shivering, convulsing visibly all the way. One lady sweeping her sidewalk told me I needed to wear a coat since it was cold. It is definitely fall… We gave one charla to a guy sitting on a bench in the park. He was nice but not interested, but he listened to a very short charla. We tried to talk to another guy but he was atheist and didn’t want to talk at all. Afterwards, Leon told Perry, [the ZL] “Oh yeah, we got four charlas.” [Technically a lie, since you’re only supposed to count it if you get your whole spiel out, which we clearly did not, though we did talk to four different people.] I love that guy…

At home I took a wonderful nap and we did laundry. I brought my walkman but I didn’t feel like writing Mom and Dad so I sat outside in front of the laundromat and listened to my walkman [and verboten music; I think it was Midnight Oil] and watched people walk by in the cool breeze. Like a late autumn day, a November day. It was cool. All the people who walked by looked so sad like they were going to burst into tears at any moment. Moms with three kids, looking worried about money, looking miserable. Old guys, so feeble, nothing to look forward to. [Projecting much, Ned?] Businessmen slaving to work for the family they never saw. Old women so defenseless and decrepit and on the edge of death… This life is so sad and miserable and unpleasant; it’s horrible. “Can this world really be as sad as it seems?” [I think this young man may need some anti-depressants and a slap upside the head, what do you think? And yes, I did just quote Nine Inch Nails. Don’t worry, there’s more coming.]

The stream of people on Nazca [the name of the street that the laundromat was on] were all heading to the grave and soon… I realized we come here, are unhappy, desperately seeking happiness in some form (the usual way of finding it is with another person) and then growing feeble and weak and not being able to do anything about it, watching everyone die off, and then, bam, we’re gone too. No warning. It’s so short and transitory. Everyone’s miserable. It’s just as Trent [Reznor] says, “I don’t know what I am, I don’t know where I’ve been, human junk, just words and so much skin.” Such a perfect symbol of those who seek gratification and happiness in the most natural way, i.e. pleasure of the flesh, food, money, clothes, but also the least likely to find it. [If I met the guy who wrote this on the street, I would punch him in the face. Oh, wait. Anyway, I am mortified.] On Nazca I regained my perspective and realized I had to believe in something. I’ve never denied God, it’s just some of his supposed organization here on earth that I doubt.

We went to [a cybercafe 15 minutes away]. But first Harris put the oven on low and we left the bishop’s meat [no, this isn’t a euphemism–the bishop gave us some food instead of having us over for dinner] in there while we went. I was a little concerned we’d burn the place down but when we got home the choripan were perfect and the ribs not done yet, so it turned out well… [Another reason never to rent to missionaries; they won’t think twice about turning the oven on, leaving for an hour, and coming back.]

[Here I’ve cut out a lengthy discussion of the emails I received, the slowness of the computer at the cybercafe, etc. I even mentioned emailing Maude (we were just friends back then). We were discussing possible mix-tapes that she could send to me. In conclusion:]

Anyone is better than the bundle of problems, confusion, and self-destruction called me…I need so much help…

The end. Wow, I really was insufferable back then. (Right? Past tense?) On the other hand, what do you expect when you cut teenagers off from their family, their friends, their country, and constantly tell them they’re not good enough? Looking back, I’m surprised how disaffected I was ten years ago. I was almost there, but I couldn’t quite make the leap. That wouldn’t come until much later (after I started this blog).

Posted by: nflanders | March 21, 2008

Decent Friday

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I will never be so atheist that I won’t accept a day off from work. Vishnu’s birthday? Sign me up. St. Crispin’s day? I’m there.

Getting Good Friday off is weird. It must be a New England thing, because I don’t remember getting this holiday in New York or D.C. And of course not in Utah. I didn’t even know what Ash Wednesday was until college. But as long as the holiday involves me sleeping until noon, I’m a believer.

I thought today would be a good time to go to Costco and pick up a book I wanted from the library (The Lost City by Henry Shukman). I was borrowing Maude’s car and due to the idiosyncrisy of her fuel gauge (okay, idiocy of the driver) I nearly ran out of gas. The gas dashboard light went on while I was on the freeway and I pulled off at an unfamiliar exit that claimed it had a gas station. Five minutes later, still no gas station in sight. I start to sweat a little bit. I’m passing industrial park after industrial park, farms, quiet neighborhoods, anything but retail spaces. I seriously drove for 15 minutes without seeing a gas station. I’m imagining myself walking on the side of the street with a gas can in hand. Also, the wind has been gusting all week, so it’s freezing out too. I finally head to the airport because I figure there has to be a gas station there. I think the rental car lots have squeezed all the gas stations out of their area because everyone knows that’s where they make their real money. “Oh, you didn’t return the car with a full tank? That’ll be just an eighty-dollar additional charge.”

Anyway, I finally found a gas station (past all the car lots) and 12.2 gallons and $40 later I was back on the road.

 When I finally got to the library, the damn place was closed. Stupid Good Friday.

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