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Innocent Byproduct
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« on: November 20, 2010, 01:41:43 AM »

I wrote the following essay over the course of the past three days. I assure you it's true. Enjoy.

(It’s in two parts—spread over two posts—because it’s too long for just one post.)



The Saga of My Mother’s Mortgage (part one of two)

About four years ago I moved from New York back to Massachusetts to help out my mother, in her 70's at the time. She wasn't a steady driver any longer and needed to get to about 3 medical appointments per month. There were also the many trips to the pharmacy, and general grocery shopping, and a few social events.

After my second year with Mom, her vision began to fail, forcing her to give up driving all together (she had herself declared legally blind, which means you automatically have to surrender your driver’s license, but in exchange you get a fair assortment of government perks). So I started managing all her medication (she could no longer read the bottles), I began cooking all her meals, and I also began doing all her bills. Thus was I introduced to the details of her mortgage.

My mom had taken out what is called a reverse mortgage about a year before my arrival. That's when you sign over to the bank a special promise to sell them your house, but the sale gets stretched out over a period of time (I believe in her case it was 7 years). So while you're still living in the house the bank sends regular monthly payments on the house for you to live off of. At the end of that 7 years, the house then FULLY belongs to the bank and you must vacate. (As a side note, I asked a real estate attorney at one point his opinion as to when such a situation would be advantageous to the homeowner, and he said "Reverse mortgages only work for people who intend to die in that house.")

I undertook the task of going through my mom's vast mountain of life-related paperwork. She had a whole room full of years and years of files, and they weren't very well organized. Her “office” was a scene right out of that reality TV show called “Hoarders.” So I, having held two college-era jobs as a filing clerk for huge corporate filing rooms (back in the days when everything was still on paper), valiantly plunged myself headlong into the mission of organizing her paperwork life. I spent several weeks -- 5 to 6 hours per day-- sorting it all out. In the end I threw out 17 large black plastic trash bags full of useless paper. (Those trash bags represented the non-essential things my mother strangely chose to save over the years, including the full-color high-gloss inserts found inside most utility bills and credit card bills and bank statement --the inserts which advertise a lot of useless junk-- as well as her odd choice to save the actual envelopes from virtually everything, and a lot of other miscellaneous nonsense.) The easiest stuff for me to sort through was the utility bills. The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission had an easily discerned logo, as did Bay State Gas, so snatching up all the envelopes and the sheets of paper with those particular names and logos on them proved an easy chore. But the electrical utility company not only changed logos at least 3 or 4 times over the years, they also changed their name once in the midst of those logo upgrades (they started out many decades ago as Western Massachusetts Electric Company, then became Northeast Utilities) so they were a slightly more challenging selection of papers to round up. And every now and then a company might change the layout of the main page of their bill -- maybe the logo would now be found in the upper-left corner instead of the upper right, and maybe the "tear-off" portion that you're supposed to mail in with your check got shifted down to the bottom instead of the top. The phone company changed its logo, its name and its overall billing format probably 6 times over the course of 10 years.  The bank statements for her checking and savings were tolerable and they rarely changed in format from year to year, and the canceled checks which used to be mailed back to my mom every month were suddenly "truncated" so all we had now were photocopies of the cancelled checks in the statements (fine by me).  Meanwhile, I confess I always find it annoying when a billing format from any business entity switched over from one-sided to two-sided. I realize that two-sided saves paper, but it makes it hard to review the bill each month, and even harder if you want to review multiple bills from multiple months side-by-side with each other on the kitchen table.  The constant need to flip each paper again and again is a real concentration-killer. But the absolute most difficult documents to sort were the ones from the realm of "high finance." That would be her insurance documents, her 401(k), and most importantly her mortgage. The mortgage was originally acquired by her from the Bank of New York. Now why on Earth a Massachusetts homeowner would get a mortgage from a New York lending institution is a story in and of itself --a story about foolish decisions to deregulate the US banking industry, repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, repealing the Bank Holding Company Act-- and I will not get into all that Congressional idiocy here. Instead I will concentrate just upon my mother's mortgage. Bank of New York was "ground zero" for the silent yet disturbing fallout that resulted from my mother's mortgage.

Now the way I like to file things is to place them in a vanilla-colored file folder with the older bills toward the back and the most recent ones up front. I also like to use my scissors to snip out one of the actual logos from one of that business’ letter heads and scotch tape that logo onto the upward protruding tab, allowing a visual aid for me as I flip through the many resulting file tabs in the final product of my filing system. And since my mother had saved years of even the most useless items, including all the mailing envelopes from those businesses with all their logos still intact on them, I had plenty of non-essential bits of letterhead-like things from which to snip my filing tab labels. All that was easy enough to do with the like of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission.  It was a little more problematic for me to do it with the phone bill since I had many different logos from many different phone companies (but at least it was the same phone number all those years). But trying to set up a file folder for her reverse mortgage bordered on psychotic.

This task I undertook happened in late 2007, about 8 months before the price of oil hit $147 a barrel, and 10 months before the financial meltdown of 2008. And at the time I truly did not understand how a mortgage could possibly get “sold” nor why anyone would even want to “buy” one in the first place. All I knew was those documents needed sorting, and I blindly groped along in my task for weeks, sorting things according to logo and name, making dozens of stacks all over the room for each logo and name, and then after everything was in its own rough stack, I started a fine-tuned sorting job of re-sorting according to dates. At first I simply assumed that my mom just had a lot of bank accounts – seeing the names and logos of nine different financial entities spread out across the table made little sense to me in the early stages of this paper de-tangling process. I thought “Oh, she has a life insurance policy,” and “Oh, she has a 401(k).” But the deeper I delved into the many stacks in her office, the more confused I became. I had to ask her what on Earth all these financial institutions were, and what was her relationship with them. She said “Well, it’s my mortgage, honey.” And I paused and asked “How many mortgages do you have?” And she replied, “Just one.” Incredulous, I went back into her office and continued hacking away at the beast. It wasn’t until I made the first totally random discovery of one bank’s “welcome letter” that I realized what had been going on. Her mortgage had been bought and sold no less than 5 times over the course of about 3 years. So at that point, only the dates on the tops of the statements were able to guide me through this murky puzzle of trying to match things up --  a puzzle that equated to a pathological game of Go Fish. 

My first source of confoundment arose when I realized that Bank of New York changed its own logo once during the first few months of the life of my mother's mortgage with them. And then, after just four or five months, with four or five monthly statements from them, her mortgage got "sold" to another financial entity, one I believe was called Sovereign Bank. So I started off with a fresh clean vanilla-colored file folder for Bank of New York where I scotch-taped their logo onto the upwardly protruding tab, then I switched to a new folder where I taped Sovereign Bank’s logo on the new tab. That new folder I placed in front of the Bank of New York folder (since Bank of New York represented older data). And I filled that folder up with about 9 months worth of statements and bank communications, including the very first written communication from them that said “Welcome to Sovereign Bank!” (just one of many “welcome letters” I found). It was a letter of introduction, explaining to my mother that her mortgage had been bought by them and was now under their administration. The letter also explained that the account number on her loan had been changed to a new number (one compatible with the database used by Sovereign Bank). I neatly compiled all 9 months worth of statements and communications from them into that second folder, and then I had to start a new folder. This time it was Bank Boston. Once again I found a letter of introduction, welcoming my mother to Bank Boston and explaining to her that her mortgage had been bought by them and was now being serviced by them. And once again the account number had changed. Bank Boston had her mortgage under their care for about a year, and then it got sold to Chase. A new letter of introduction from Chase, and a new account number, and maybe three months at best of statements from Chase, and next it was Fleet Bank. Again, a letter of introduction, a new account number, a series of statements spanning a shamefully brief number of months, and then her mortgage found its way into the hands of Bank of America. And as I stood in that disastrous room in my mother’s house, a room stacked full of many years of forgotten documents while the latest black plastic trash bag slowly filled up beside me, I examined the dates on that handful of Bank of America statements, and discerned that they were in fact the CURRENT holder of her mortgage. So they were now the final vanilla-colored file folder that I had to craft. I fished out one of their high-gloss inserts, found an appropriately-sized version of their red white and blue logo, snipped it into a thin horizontal rectangle and scotch taped it onto the upright tab of the latest file folder. Then I filled that folder with the letter and the subsequent statements. My final effort was to nest all six of those vanilla file folders in a green hanging folder.   Completing the files on her mortgage  was the last bit of filing I had to do. It proved the hardest part, thus I put it off to the end. Getting it all together was  a relief.  I cleaned up the office and smiled over the two banker’s boxes that now held my mom’s documents. Then I counted all 17 of the black trash bags stacked up in the corner. Wow. I had actually accomplished something.

By the third year of my being with her, in the spring of 2008, I urged my mother to consider an assisted living facility. I then spent 4 months researching dozens of facilities all over Massachusetts, and I found the perfect one in Westfield, Massachusetts. With the help of my brother who came in from Pennsylvania, we filled out all the paperwork which put her on the waiting list. Then we called an attorney who specializes in legal matters pertaining to the elderly. The biggest question on our minds was: "What are we supposed to do with the house?"

The attorney reviewed the only mortgage-looking document I was able to produce. It was a Bank of New York document about 30 pages long and clearly labeled as a “reverse mortgage.” But sadly it was NOT the mortgage my mother had originally signed. All the identifying lines in the first few pages – the lines that are supposed to get filled in with the address of the house—were blank, not filled in at all. And then the signature lines found on the last page were utterly blank as well. Therefore, this was merely a “prototype” document, of no legal consequence at all. No signatures means the whole thing is worthless.

“Where’s the original?” the lawyer asked me as she sat flipping through it. “I need the one with the actual signatures on it. This is just a prototype. Where is the actual mortgage that she signed?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I assume the bank has it in their archives somewhere.”

And then she paused and asked in a low tone: “And which bank might that be?”

I shrugged with a nervous grin, feeling quite stupid.

She sighed and said this was quite typical of most of the mortgages issued in the USA after 2002. She grumbled under her breath something about “mortgage mills.” 

She decided to just assume (a dangerous thing to do, we all realized) that the prototype in our hands was in fact a true and identical representation of the document that she signed. So she took it with her, went over it, and promised she give us her assessment.

She got back to us a few weeks later and said this was a HECM mortgage (pronounced “heck-em” in the mortgage industry). I do not know what HECM stands for, but here’s what she explained.  She said it was a government backed mortgage, so in the event my mom defaults on it, the government picks up the tab, and she can walk away freely. She advised my mother to just move out of the house whenever she felt like it, just walk away, and leave it all for the bank --whichever bank might be the flavor of the month-- to sort it out on their own. 

After we got her advice, all that was left now was to wait for my mom’s name to move up on the waiting list for the assisted living facility. As we waited, I made two attempts to secure a copy of the actual original mortgage document from the bank. “And which bank might that be?” Well, Bank of America, of course. If they are servicing the mortgage, then they are also responsible for the recordkeeping and archiving of all documents—they bought the mortgage so they bought the burden of record keeping and archiving. I called Bank of America and asked what procedure I needed to follow to get a copy of that mortgage. The telephone service representative gave me a fax number held by some document services group which lay hidden somewhere within the vast labyrinthian empire called Bank of America. He said I had to have my mom sign a formal request for the loan document, it had to include (among other pieces of data) her name, her account number, a return phone number, and the date of the original mortgage. Just fax it and a copy of the document should arrive in the mail in about 2 weeks.  I did as he said, and as I stood before the fax machine at Staples, feeding my mom’s signed letter into the track, I imagined what kind of filing room might lie at the other end of that phone line. I have worked in two different yet quite massive filing rooms in my life, and had extensive exposure to two others of equal size. I understand the basic principles of operation for what is called the “record keeping industry,” and I am aware of the changes that have happened to that industry with the advent of scanner technology. One of the biggest tragedies to befall record keeping was scanner technology simply because when a team of filing clerks gets assigned the task of transferring the documents into the electronic format, if not done right it can result in unabating chaos for years to come. If you hire skilled people who know what they are doing, and if you give them the luxury of time to do the job right, it can be a sooth process. But if some arrogant twenty-something kid out of grad school with a fresh MBA and nothing but book knowledge in his half-empty head sits down with his calculator, he’ll most likely spout off a bone headed dictate about how to transfer those files. Such a snot-nosed kid who never set foot in a filing room in his life would be likely to decree that the transfer job can be done as cheaply as possible by hiring a small team of low-paid temp workers, and can also be done in less than six weeks. And that’s the sort of event that delivers to the record keeping arm of a company a fatal blow – one the entire company will reap the benefits of for easily a decade.  Meanwhile, I recalled the catastrophic mess my mom’s home office was in, and so I wondered: “Are the filing rooms at Bank of America in just as much chaos?” I ignored my ponderings and awaited the fax confirmation. The transmission was successful, my fax had gone through.  I left Staples and waited for the mortgage to arrive in the mail.

Twice in six months I sent such a fax. And twice the fax resulted in nothing. Not even a phone call from Bank of America telling us what the delay was about. To this day I have never seen that mortgage document.

About six months later my mom got a call from the assisted living facility that there was an opening for her and that she could move in starting next month. That was the spring of 2009, and she was in her new place by May 1st. I landed a full-time, live-in nanny job nearby that would begin on September 1st, so I would stay in my mom’s house for a few more moths until my nanny position began. I continued to pay the bills myself, keeping the lights on and biding my time.  But within a month after my mom moved into her new home, she was hospitalized. She spent over 90 days in the hospital, in and out of intensive care, eventually getting placed on a ventilator. I spent that entire summer in the hospital, visiting her every day, listening to doctor who didn’t know what was wrong, watching her suffer and unable to speak due to the vent. And then a week after I started nannying, the cancer was found. My mother died in mid-September of 2009.


(To be continued)






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« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2010, 01:44:02 AM »

The Saga of My Mother’s Mortgage (part two of two)

As for my mom’s house, I would drive by it every now and then, the two kids in my care sitting oblivious in the back seat. And I noticed a family had moved in -- squatters. There were toys in the yard, and the lawn was being mowed. I had the mail forwarded from my mom’s house to my new address beginning back on September 1st. And the bills for her house kept arriving --   the electric bill, the water bill, the gas bill. And then the letters from the bank started arriving. I quietly stacked all those notices up on my desk, not knowing what else to do with them. I thought “Surely the bank will come and take the house, right? Eventually? Soon?” I had never turned off the utilities, and now that I could see that children lived there, I didn’t have the heart to. But it was obvious that the utilities were not being paid. By the first week of December in 2009 notices from the utility companies started getting very harsh, and I felt badly for that family. So I sat down and compiled all the latest bills together into a stack, and then I wrote a letter to that family of squatters. In the letter I explained about the bills, and even told them where they could pay each of the bills with cash, if they needed to. I advised them in the letter to keep all the account numbers from each bill so they could keep on paying each month. And then I scotch taped a ten dollar bill and a red Christmas ribbon to the front of this stack of documents and my letter, and I tossed in a few red and green-foiled Hershey’s Kisses.   I drove over to the house and knocked on the door. An elderly woman answered, and behind her I saw three very young children crawling on the floor playing. I briefly explained to her that I used to live there, and added “You’re gonna need this,” then I handed her the letter with the bills, adorned by a scotch-taped Christmas bow and a ten dollar bill. I didn’t tell her what the letter was all about, and I only assumed she knew how to read. At the very least the ten dollars would surely help out in some way. I never gave her my name, and I never learned hers. I simply said “Merry Christmas,” nodded, and walked back to my car.




It is now November of 2010. My mother moved out of that house 18 months ago. Thanksgiving is next week. And that family still lives there with the lights and the water and the toys in the driveway. Not even the City of Springfield’s Office of the Tax Collector has made any claims on the house – or if they tried to make a claim on it, I suspect they do not know who they can repossess the house from. “And which bank might that be?” If the City doesn’t know, then neither will the Sheriff. 

I do not know how many more months or even years that family will be able to keep sliding by under the radar, living as squatters, paying the utility bills with cash, and not be harassed or thrown out. I also do not know what Bank of America is going to do about a loan document that they probably do not even possess. I’ve been reading in the news lately about how some of the banks are actually sitting down and fabricating forged duplicates of those loan documents, complete with forged signatures. I’ve also been reading about banks sending repo agents out to change the locks in the middle of the night on people.

More letters have been arriving lately, this time from an attorney out in Boston representing Bank of America. My brother out in Pennsylvania is the executor of my mom’s estate, and he said those letters were no big deal. He assured me that he has already spoken on the phone with his own attorney, and said that the Boston attorney is merely going through the motions of legal procedure before they will finally take action.

“What action?” I asked.

“Taking the house,” my brother said.

“From who?” I asked.

“Good question,” he laughed.

I recalled my two filing clerk jobs I held during my college years – back in the days when businesses still used paper.  One job was in a life insurance company, and the other was in a hospital. While I was merely killing time during the summer with those jobs, there were old ladies working in those filing rooms who had been there for decades. A lot of them were in their 60’s and even a few in their 70’s, and those old ladies were sharp as razors and knew their way around paper files. They took the job of record keeping seriously – deadly so. One woman said to me something have never forgotten: “There are people’s lives in these files. And you could destroy someone forever by screwing up even one piece of paper.”   

From what I can see, the amount of paper that has been screwed up in this country over the past 10 years has been enough to destroy the lives of millions of people. And we as a nation will reap the benefits of those screw-ups for decades to come. 




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"This is an emergency far worse than World War I and World War II put together." --Sir Richard Branson

"The airlines in this sector are really the canaries in the coal mine." --J Kunstler

"This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind." --R Rainwater
jbushkey
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« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2010, 02:07:45 AM »

Interesting story.  Sorry about your mom.  I am a bit confused though.  I thought you said she had a reverse mortgage.  Shouldn't you be getting a payment?
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« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2010, 02:13:32 AM »

Interesting story.  Sorry about your mom.  I am a bit confused though.  I thought you said she had a reverse mortgage.  Shouldn't you be getting a payment?

Sorry. The terms of the mortgage are that she must remain living in the house as her primary resdence in order for the monthly payments to continue. (In other words, she can't rent out the house, or go buy a condo somewhere else, etc.) She also has to maintain a full homeowner's insurance policy on the house and can never let it lapse. So if she lapses her insurance, or moves out of the house, the mortgage then must come due.

She moved out of the house in May of 2009, and lapsed her insurance not long after that (well, actually I lapsed the isurance because I was handling all her bills). When the bank found out about the lapsed insurance, that's when they began sending the letters 

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"This is an emergency far worse than World War I and World War II put together." --Sir Richard Branson

"The airlines in this sector are really the canaries in the coal mine." --J Kunstler

"This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind." --R Rainwater
marcszar
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« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2010, 02:18:47 AM »

You have an excellent writing style! I could easily follow your story and am waiting for the next chapter...

It's becoming increasingly obvious that many debts will never be paid back. All debts, whether we like it or not, will eventually be wiped out, washed away, and forgiven. Mortgages, credit cards, student loans, car loans, healthcare bills - everyone is buried in so much debt that it will all need to be wiped out. Good news is that most people will be debt-free again, bad news is that "economic growth" will not occur for decades thanks to a legitimate distrust for complex financial transactions of any kind (and that's not even taking into account our looming energy/resource problems).

The FIRE industry has realized this - that's why we're stuck in a "holding pattern" while they're trying to decide what to do (i.e.- grabbing as much stuff in the store as possible as they're running out the door).
« Last Edit: November 20, 2010, 02:21:09 AM by marcszar » Logged
Innocent Byproduct
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« Reply #5 on: November 20, 2010, 02:28:41 AM »

Thanks for the compliment, marc.

I might start to post my novel here again soon.
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"This is an emergency far worse than World War I and World War II put together." --Sir Richard Branson

"The airlines in this sector are really the canaries in the coal mine." --J Kunstler

"This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind." --R Rainwater
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« Reply #6 on: November 20, 2010, 03:36:02 AM »

Wow, amazing story.
It really give one the feel of how byzantine this whole mortgage mess is.
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« Reply #7 on: November 20, 2010, 05:41:01 AM »

great story.
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« Reply #8 on: November 20, 2010, 12:22:56 PM »

Thanks for the props, guys.

Meanwhile, in addition to a few annoying typos that I only just noticed, I would prefer to come back in a few weeks and do an edit of this entire essay that includes the following:

1) the added detail about the terms of the mortgage that jbushkey asked about
2) the fact that most records transfers from one company to another take at least 2 to 3 months to complete, and yet some of the banks that held my mom's mortgage only had her mortgage for exactly 3 months before tey sold it again, so surely the original mortgage document never even passed throgh the hands of soe of those banks

and (this next one is a HUGE one, guys!)

3) I need to verify the TRUE names of the banks involved. To be honest, the bankers boxes that currently contain all my mom's documents (the bankers boxes that I mentioned in the essay) are in a storage unit, and I cannot access that storage unit for another few weeks yet. And when I was composing this essay over the past several days, I was unable to recall all the names of all the banks. So I started pulling names out of the air. A proper rendering of this essay would have all the true names, and in the correct order. And only this morning at about 6:00 AM did I recall that one of the banks I competely forgot about was the Bank of Seatte. And also, I think Bank of Seattle was the TRUE "ground zero" bank who granted my mom the original reverse mortgage, and then it was promptly bought by Bank of New York.

The greatest compliment to any writer is if their work starts getting passed around, and then goes viral. But I don't want that particular dream to come true until after I get the true names of all the banks. The only reason I was hastey enough to post this essay here at KunstlerCast even though it obviosuly wasn't "finished" yet (at least not as far as fact-checking) was because it was burning in my soul, and I figured this was as safe a place as any to post an inferior piece of writing.  

So please forgiveme for this incomplete offering, and thanks again for the props.



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"This is an emergency far worse than World War I and World War II put together." --Sir Richard Branson

"The airlines in this sector are really the canaries in the coal mine." --J Kunstler

"This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind." --R Rainwater
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« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2010, 02:20:20 AM »

Wow IB, what a story.

  Gobsmacked, and we all know that each time your mothers reverse mortgage was bundled and sold, somebody made a few bucks.

  Thanks for sharing.
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« Reply #10 on: July 27, 2011, 07:07:17 AM »

Hello, Just dropping by!
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« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2012, 07:59:02 AM »

Its a great story.Continue sharing some more like this.
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« Reply #12 on: January 25, 2012, 11:43:42 AM »

Awesome story !!! I just loved it, Great share really an interesting read. Thanks for sharing.
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« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2012, 12:36:11 AM »

Sorry about your mom, IB.

My hat is off to your writing skills---conveying that FUBAR'd  mess in a way that's comprehensible is no small accomplishment.

Sounds like you could still be living there rent-free.
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