The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Van Bramer

practical use

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Reading is fundamental.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, when my phone rings, it’s seldom a call I want to receive. Luckily, when the chime sounded the other day and the caller ID said “Jimmy Van Bramer,” it actually was a call I wanted to get.

It wasn’t “the man” himself, rather it was one of his staff members ringing me up, letting me know that they were going to be doing a press event just down the road from Newtown Pentacle HQ at the Broadway Branch of the Queens Library.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The point of the event was to announce that JVB and the council had secured several million dollars of funding for the libraries of Queens, which are VERY well used, to stay open six days a week as opposed to five.

As you can see, Jimmy Van Bramer brought a few of his colleagues out to the neighborhood, including the Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along with the Speaker, which is a singularly great title to have IMHO, Andy L. King of the Bronx – who is chair of the Council Subcommittee on Libraries – was present, as were the heads of the three systems – Dennis Walcott of the Queens library, Linda E. Johnson of Brooklyn system, and Tony Marx of the New York organization.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a gaggle of press there as well, from local and citywide news sites and papers and stations. As is my usual habit, I left the “press pit” to get some shots of the third estate as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

JVB’s neighboring Councilman, Costa Constantinides of Astoria, was also present as (previously mentioned) were the heads of the three library systems of the City (New York Public, Brooklyn, Queens) which will all receive funding to stay open for the extra day every week. The Council people present made a point of saying that this new funding will be permanent, but we’ll have to see if that one plays out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Queens library, which I seldom use – it should be mentioned, as I’m an “internet” guy – is well embraced by the neighbors hereabouts. Many, many people I see on the train are reading library books.

It’s great to see that it’s actually going to be open six days a week now.

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local vicinity

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The manhole cover saga of Astoria, and Jimmy Van Bramer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I’m out and about here in Astoria the neighbors will express their various problems to me and then ask me to call 311 for them, as they don’t want to get involved. It could be a basketball sized wasp’s nest hanging over their driveway, a busted street light, or just a funny smell coming from the sewer. Why the neighbors cannot grasp their tacit ownership of the environs of their own community is something which one such as myself cannot fathom. Admittedly – I’m the one who tears down stickers advertising “cash for junk cars” on Broadway, chases drunks around with a camera, and I’m the one who calls 911 when I find them passed out. Neighborhood crank, that’s me. The weirdo guy with the cute dog named Zuzu who talks to everybody.

It was one fine night in October, while escorting the aforementioned canine on her nightly rounds, that one encountered this defective access cover on the corner of 45th street and Broadway. Just this once, I decided, I wasn’t going to do anything at all and see if either one of the neighbors – or the literally hundreds of City vehicles that cross it daily – would make an attempt at getting it taken care of. This was back in October. The shot above is from December 7th, so as you see – I was let down once again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was paralyzed with a sort of fever on this December night. While the dog sniffed about at the base of a tree, I angrily watched city buses driving over the thing, causing it to spin like a dime in the broken rim of the pipe it covered. A motorcycle driver almost rolled into it, and then a FedEx truck making the left off of 45th street plunged a wheel into the hole, causing it to flip.

God damn all of you. 

I called 311, and told my tale to an operator whom I had to convince that Astoria was in Queens and not the Bronx. The operator decided it was a police emergency and forwarded it to the 114th pct (who called me some four and a half hours later, btw). Ultimately, the cops did nothing (and the situation persisted through November).

Fearing someone might actually get hurt waiting for the Gendarmes to arrive, I called my neighbor Mario (a construction guy) to grab a few safety cones from the basement and bring them over to the corner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Suffice to say that Mario has an abundance of traffic safety devices primed for ready deployment, and he showed up with not just traffic cones but one of those barriers with a blinky thing attached to it. We arranged the safety devices about the broken manhole cover, and again this was the 7th of December. Fervently, one hoped for succor throughout the month, and that a crew from either DOT or DEP would show up and remedy things.

As mentioned in the past, I’m an optimist.

The shot above is from January 2nd of this year. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the 3rd of January, I was again walking around with Zuzu the dog and noticed that the impromptu safety devices we had arranged about the hazard nearly a full month earlier had begun to scatter. Cursing my neighbors, the City of New York itself, and whatever malign powers there are which have regency over my life – a decision was made that I was going to be forced into exercising the nuclear option.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Elected officials are kind of a dice throw in Queens, where a single political party enjoys landslide elections and office holders are appropriately described as having been appointed rather than having won an election. In my section of Astoria, the dice have fallen propitiously, as our representative in the City Council is Jimmy Van Bramer.

I’m a big fan of Mr. Van Bramer, it should be mentioned, and several times in the past I’ve reached out to his office for assistance involving one quality of life issue or another. I’m also in regular contact with several of the local electeds (Newtown Creek stuff), and overall – Western Queens is ably served by our representatives on the subject of “Quality of Life” issues.

January 3rd was a Sunday, so I pulled the glass cover away from the big red button that must never be pushed on Newtown Pentacle HQ’s control panel, and called Team Van Bramer’s office on the 4th.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just the other day, Monday the 11th actually, while returning from the subway stop at 46th street to Newtown Pentacle HQ, the shot above was taken. A dangerous street condition first noticed in October, which was reported to 311 in December, and which persisted through the holidays to January – was fixed.

It’s for the saga of the Astoria manhole cover and many, many other reasons that Mr. Van Bramer and his team can expect my support, endorsement, and vote in the next election cycle. They can somehow work the levers on the juggernaut mechanism which is the City of Greater New York in expert fashion, and realize that to the citizens of our metropolis – it’s the little things which matter.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 18, 2016 at 11:00 am

The Smelling Committee

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As long time readers will recall, in the fall of 2010, the Newtown Creek Alliance and the Working Harbor Committee received a grant from the NYCEF fund of the Hudson River Foundation to conduct 4 boat tours of Newtown Creek. The plan was to do two ticketed tours for the public (the tickets were available at a steeply discounted rate), one for educators, and one for “the elected’s” of the watershed. The first three went off without a hitch, but the fourth was postponed due to the tragic helicopter crash on the East River which occurred just as we were about to board the boat.

Last Friday, the 4th of May, we accomplished the fourth tour with a modern day “Smelling Committee” onboard.

from “Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Brooklyn for the year 1895”, courtesy google books

Whereas, Complaint has been made to the Governor of the State of New York during the year 1894 by the citizens and residents of the Town of Newtown and the City of Brooklyn, relating to the existence of public nuisances on or near Newtown Creek, jeopardizing the health and comfort of the people in the vicinity thereof, and the Hon. Roswell P. Flower, Governor of the State of New York, did thereupon, on the 2d day of August, 1894, pursuant to Chapter 661, of the Laws of 1893, require, order and direct the State Board of Health to examine into the alleged nuiscances, and to report the result thereof…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Important to the mission was attendance of officials from both sides of the Creek. The “center of gravity” for the advocacy of the Newtown Creek has historically been in Greenpoint, but that doesn’t mean that the folks on the Queens side haven’t been paying attention. Pictured above are Michael Gianaris and Jimmy Van Bramer, and both were anxious to visit this hidden part of their districts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As luck would have it, we passed by one of the many workboats which have been operating along the Newtown Creek of late. These workboats, hailing from Millers Launch on Staten Island, are carrying contractors and employees of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency who are collecting samples of the so called “black mayonnaise” sediments for laboratory analysis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You cannot fix something unless you understand it, and the EPA has scheduled an exhaustive “scoping period” during which a series of such tests will be performed. Since January, I have personally witnessed dozens of such operations- ranging from towing a sonar buoy up and down the waterway to establish a subsurface topographical map, to the group onboard this vessel who seemed to operating a hand operated dredge to bring materials up into the light.

Notice that the folks directly handling the sediments are wearing protective garments.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Newtown Creek Alliance member, Phillip Musegaas of Riverkeeper fame came along to inform about and describe the legal and policy issues surrounding the Greenpoint Oil Spill, Superfund, or any of the myriad points of law which surround the Newtown Creek. That’s Phillip on the right.

I should mention that Council Member Stephen Levin of Greenpoint was onboard as well, but was forced to stay in the cabin and deal with urgent business in his district via phone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A decision which I’ve been keeping to is to not bring “civilians” all the way back to English Kills on these boat tours, but this “Smelling Committee” was no mere interested group and accordingly we entered into the heart of darkness- God’s Gift to Pain itself. This is as bad as it gets along the Newtown Creek, a stinking and fetid miasma poisoned with sewage and urban runoff surrounded by waste transfer stations.

In the distance is one of the largest CSO’s in the entire city, and the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not just elected officials were onboard, of course, representatives of a veritable alphabet soup of three lettered agencies were also invited. Additionally, local leaders- such as Tom Bornemann from the Ridgewood Democratic Club (pictured above, in sunglasses) accompanied the tour. The microphone was passed amongst us, with Kate Zidar (NCA’s executive director), Michael Heimbinder (NCA’s chair), Laura Hoffman (Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee), Phillip Musegaas (Riverkeeper), Penny Lee (City Planning), and myself narrating at various legs of the trip.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above are Assemblyman Joe Lentol of Greenpoint, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, Working Harbor Development Director Meg Black, Council Member Diana Reyna of Brooklyn, a gentleman who I’m embarrassed to say I can’t identify, and State Senator Michael Gianaris.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Smelling Committee of 2012 encountered a Newtown Creek swollen by days of rain, replete with oil slicks and “floatables” contamination. The term floatables is used to describe everything from stray bits of lumber and tree limbs to cast off plastic bottles and wind blown trash carried in the water, by the way. The trip was 2 hours in length, and accomplished onboard a NY Water Taxi vessel. It left from Pier 17 in Manahattan at four in the afternoon and returned at six, proceeding some three and one half miles into the Newtown Creek and required the opening of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along the way, sites of legal or popular interest were pointed out- including the future of the Arch Street Yard, the Hunters Point South development, SimsMetal, the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant, the Greenpoint petroleum district, the Blissville Oil spill, the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the Phelps Dodge site, the Kosciuszko Bridge, the CSO issue, the role of Newtown Creek as a mass employer, the maritime potential of the Creek and its potential for eliminating a significant amount of trucking activity, its myriad waste transfer stations, and the plans which EPA have for the place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Crass observers in the antiquarian community and political operatives in both boroughs will sneer at efforts such as this, the aim of which was to create a common sense of purpose and to identify issues regarding the Creek for both the Queens and Brooklyn political establishments. Ridgewood and Bushwick, Maspeth and Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Long Island City- all parts of the Newtown Creek watershed have more in common with each other than they do with neighboring districts in either borough. They are blessed with one of the finest industrial waterfronts in the world, but cursed by its past. What the Newtown Creek will look like in fifty years time is beginning to be discussed, and it was time for this “congress of the creek” to be convened.

So much of what the people in high office know of this place is influenced by dire reportage and dry testimony, and it can be easy to overlook the past, present, and future of this maritime superhighway if you haven’t experienced it first hand.

Especially from the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Several times have I witnessed the effect that this place has on first time visitors, a transformation of expression and demeanor overtakes them.

Hardened New Yorkers all, the Newtown Creek nevertheless explodes all expectations and an expression of wonderment forms upon their faces. They come to see toxic waste dumps and oil spills, but instead find Herons, Egrets, and Cormorants nesting in the broken cement of abandoned industrial bulkheads. They witness the miles wide vistas and wide open view of the City of New York from its very navel, and are thunderstruck that such a place exists- this “Insalubrious Valley” of the Newtown Creek watershed.

Every time I start to narrate on one of these tours, my first utterance is always “this is not the world you know…”.

I’m happy to say that due to the Working Harbor Committee, Newtown Creek Alliance, and the NYCEF Fund of the Hudson River Foundation- the Smelling Committee of 2012 knows this corner of the world a little bit better.

What will come of it?

Others will have to answer that, for your humble narrator must remain without and is cursed to merely observe such matters. Always, an outsider.

The Boulevard of Bravery

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Word came to me that Jimmy Van Bramer, who is my local City Council representative, was going to conduct a ceremony in Woodside at the firehouse of the Rescue 4 Unit. Designed to honor the members of that storied unit of the FDNY who fell in the line of duty on September 11, the event was scheduled for noon.

I packed up the camera, and accompanied again by the Charismatic Croat, set off for Woodside.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rescue 4 was hit particularly hard by the attack on 911, and Mr. Van Bramer had gathered several prominent members of the local political establishment and fire unions. Along with family members of the fallen, they came here to designate this corner of Queens Blvd., where Rescue 4 (and Engine 292) is housed, as “The Boulevard of Bravery”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A subject I normally won’t touch with a ten foot pole, September 11th is the stuff of history now, ready for postmodern interpretation and analogy. Future scholars will build careers upon the topic, discussing its ramifications and debating deeper meanings.

Ten years, from a historical point of view, is nothing.

It’s 2051 at the earliest that the subject will be able to be discussed apolitically, and probably much further into the future.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The turnout for the event was massive, with several retired firefighters and a coterie of political stars, as well as an enormous mainstream media presence- which is rare in Queens. Also in attendance were the Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Corps of the FDNY. In the audience were several people who had lost a loved one in Manhattan, ten years prior, family and friends alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then, of course, there were the Firemen.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in previous posts, despite my advancing age and infirmities, it still takes a great deal of effort for me not to chase after a speeding fire truck yelling “firemen, firemen” in the same manner as I did as a small child.

Ten years ago, it was custom to break into spontaneous applause when a fire unit passed by, and few if any FDNY personnel had to pay for their own drinks at any saloon where their affiliation was known.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After unveiling the street sign mounted on a post above Queens Blvd. along with family members of those lost from the Rescue 4 detail on September 11th, Mr Van Bramer presented the unit Captain with a duplicate sign, presumably for display within the firehouse.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then the Drums sang out and the Pipers began to roar, and the Emerald Society performed the hymnal “Amazing Grace”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The admonition offered by the attendant clergy (and by a few of the politicians), who led a spiritual moment of prayer for the deceased, was to perform some sort of good deed today.Render some sort of good natured action for another, which would honor the occasion, and which was referred to as a national day of service.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 11, 2011 at 2:53 am

…hits the fan

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Council Member Van Bramer sent this out to his mailing list today, regarding Hurricane Irene

As everyone knows by now, Hurricane Irene is expected to hit our area sometime Saturday into Sunday. We should all take precautions to be prepared for a storm of this magnitude. Some areas in our district are in evacuation zones and at high risk for flooding. Those areas of Hunters Point/Long Island City should familiarize themselves with the map below and know that should an evacuation be ordered, Newcomers High School (28-01 41st Ave.), Aviation High School (45-30 36th St.) and W.C. Bryant High School (48-10 31st Ave.) are your nearest evacuation centers. The City will make a decision about whether to order a mandatory evacuation of Zone A for the general public by 8:00 AM on Saturday. The evacuation centers will be open as of 5:00 PM today and the City is strongly recommending that people within these areas immediately make plans to go to alternative locations outside of Zone A starting tomorrow for the duration of the storm. The orange areas are Zone A. The yellow areas are Zone B. The green areas are Zone C.

We are also concerned about significant portions of the district including parts of Sunnyside, Woodside, Astoria and Maspeth that have experienced flooding during several recent storms. Our office has been and will continue to be in contact with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other city agencies throughout this weekend. Anyone experiencing difficulties as a result of Hurricane Irene should contact me and my office as soon as they occur. We will report problems in real time. For those outside of Zone A areas that have experienced flooding or are concerned that you may, please click on the link below on how to protect your valuables. In addition to calling our office, DEP is asking for reports of flooding to be called in to 311.

I have also been in touch today with NYCHA and the Mayor’s Office to make certain that Queensbridge, Ravenswood, and the Woodside Houses are included in any and all emergency plans including evacuation, should that be necessary. We will continue to be in regular contact with NYCHA throughout the storm.

While we continue to hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst. The city has published some useful information in securing your home during the storm. Please click on the link below for recommendations on how best to prepare for the hurricane.

Given the high volume of traffic to OEM’s (Office of Emergency Management) website there have been delays and interruptions in gaining access to some of these links. For that reason, we also include the Red Cross’ Hurricane Safety Checklist below. We have also included information from OEM’s Hurricane Guide at the end of this email should that link not respond when you try it.

In advance of the hurricane I wanted to remind you that clogged catch basin grates can aggravate flooding.  Although DEP staff – with the help of their colleagues at other agencies – are busy cleaning catch basins now, DEP has asked us to remind homeowners and residents that they welcome assistance in removing leaves, litter or other debris that may prevent water from flowing off the streets and into the catch basins.  For any of you that aren’t familiar with catch basins the attached link to a page on DEP’s website has some text and visuals that will help explain why flooding occurs and how citizens can help DEP minimize flooding by removing debris where they see it blocking catch basin grates.

I will be keeping my district office open on Saturday to field questions and concerns from constituents. Needless to say, we will close the office when the storm approaches and will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. My district office number is (718) 383-9566. I will be in the district throughout the storm and encourage anyone with problems to email me concerns at as well as using social media including Facebook ( and Twitter ( to reach me. You may also call 311. Please only call 911 if you have a very serious or life threatening emergency.

I hope this update and the attached information proves useful to you. Again, my staff and I will be working throughout the weekend and please do not hesitate to contact me should you need assistance.


Jimmy Van Bramer

Council Member

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, the Council Member included the following information from the Office of Emergency Management

OEM’s Hurricane Guide

To secure your home if a tropical storm or hurricane watch is issued:

Bring inside loose, lightweight objects, such as lawn furniture, garbage cans, and toys.

Anchor objects that will be unsafe to bring inside, like gas grills or propane tanks. Turn off propane tanks.

Shutter windows securely and brace outside doors.

Place valuables in waterproof containers or plastic bags.

Help Others Prepare

  • Check on friends, relatives, and neighbors, especially those with disabilities or special needs, and assist them with their preparation and evacuation.
  • If you live outside an evacuation zone, offer to shelter family and friends who may need to evacuate.

If Asked to Evacuate, Do So Immediately

The City will communicate specific instructions about which areas of the city should evacuate through local media. If the City Issues an Evacuation Order for Your Area: Evacuate immediately. Use public transportation if possible.

If you are going to an evacuation center, pack lightly, and bring:

  • Your Go Bag
  • Sleeping bag or bedding
  • Required medical supplies or equipment
  • Let friends or relatives know where you are going.

What about my pets?

  • Make sure your disaster plan addresses what you will do with your pet if a hurricane requires you to leave your home.
  • Plan to shelter your pet at a kennel or with friends or relatives outside the evacuation area.
  • Be sure you have supplies ready for your pet in the event of an evacuation, including food, a leash, a muzzle, proof of shots, and a cage or carrier.

Account for your special needs

  • Consider your capabilities and make sure your preparedness plan addresses how your special needs affect your ability to evacuate and shelter.
  • Determine if you will need assistance and arrange help from friends, family, or neighbors.
  • Consider additional supplies and equipment that you may need to bring with you, such as medicine, icepacks, medical devices, and backup equipment. Bring food for your dietary needs.
  • Include additional time and evaluate your transportation options.


Prepare A Disaster Plan

Develop a plan with your household members that outlines what to do, how to find each other, and how to communicate if a hurricane strikes New York. If you rent your home, renter’s insurance will insure the items inside your apartment. If you are a homeowner, make sure your home is properly insured — flood and wind damage are not covered in a basic homeowner’s policy.

Know Where You Will Go

The City strongly recommends evacuees stay with friends or family who live outside evacuation zone boundaries. For those who have no other shelter, the City will open hurricane shelters throughout the five boroughs.

To ensure efficient use of resources, the City will ask all evacuees to report to an evacuation center. Once at the evacuation center, evacuees will either be assigned to a hurricane shelter in the same facility or transported to an associated hurricane shelter by bus.

Every household member should have a small Go Bag — a collection of items you may need during an evacuation packed in an easy-to-carry container such as a backpack. A Go Bag should be easily accessible if you have to leave your home in a hurry.

Assemble an Emergency Supply Kit

You may be instructed to shelter in place (stay at home) during a hurricane. Keep enough supplies in your home to survive for at least three days.

If you do not live in an evacuation zone

All areas of the city could face hurricane-related hazards such as high winds, flooding, tornadoes, and loss of utilities. You may be instructed to shelter in place (stay at home) for several days until the hurricane passes.

If you live in a high-rise apartment building

Residents of high-rise apartment buildings may face special risks from hurricanes even if they live outside evacuation zone boundaries. If you live in a high-rise building outside an evacuation zone, be prepared to take shelter on or below the 10th floor. If you live in a high-rise building located in an evacuation zone, heed evacuation orders.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This looks like it will be a profound event. Personally, I’m preparing for an uncomfortable few days, but that’s because I live inland and uphill in Astoria. Long Island City and Greenpoint on the other hand…

Our friends at have prepared an excellent posting on the Zone A situation, which can accessed here:

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek Alliance, an organization of which I’m a member, issued this statement earlier today…

Flood Warning for Creek Neighborhoods

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on August 25th, 2011 that certain emergency measures will be instituted in low lying coastal districts referred to as “Zone A” (at high risk of coastal flooding) due to the expected arrival of Hurricane Irene in the New York City area late Saturday night. Much of the land surrounding Newtown Creek is designated as “Zone A” on the coastal flooding map prepared by City officials, including large tracts of Greenpoint and Long Island City. For a map of the affected areas, please click here.

Newtown Creek Alliance cautions residents of the affected areas to monitor the situation and be prepared to evacuate should authorities warrant it necessary. If an evacuation is recommended or ordered, information about evacuation centers and hurricane shelters may be found by calling 311 or at by visiting this website. Additionally, be mindful that during such an event, the flood waters could carry a significant load of pollutants and should not be ingested. Care should be taken upon any contact with skin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sources within the City have discussed this storm with me in the most dire tones. If you live in an area designated for evacuation, please comply. I’ll be marching out into the brave new aftermath early Monday morning, if there’s something which you think I should point my camera at, please contact me here. Good luck, and assuming the availability of both electrical power and internet connectivity, I’ll post as the situation develops.

As this post was being prepared, Council Member Van Bramer passed along another message, ordering the mandatory evacuation of Zone A by 5 pm Saturday.

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