A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Zing Went the Strings of My Heart (#atozchallenge)

Richard Himber & His Ritz-Carlton Orchestra   "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart"  (1935)

Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart

         People, places, and events have inspired songs in me for as long as I can remember.  There were the songs of the seasons and the songs connected with memories now nearly forgotten.  Memories of old loves and unconquered objects of my desire evoke refrains inspired during more passion times.   A feeling, a tickle of my senses, or any tapping into an old memory might make a melody come to mind.

           There are certain songs that I can pinpoint the time, the place, and exactly what I was doing when I first heard them.  Then there are other songs that seemed to have been merged into my life as I grew up or were there for long periods until the point when I suddenly noticed them.

           Music has been a thread that has connected the parts of my life.   In that sense music has been a soundtrack that accents the emotions, the activities, and everything that makes me who I've been.   Perhaps having always known movies with soundtracks and having always had music playing through most of my days, I've come to expect music to be playing in my mind if it wasn't entering my ears.  

           I wonder if before recorded sound if music played such an important part of people's lives?   Perhaps whistling, humming, or singing has always been an instinct within humans from the beginning of history.   How could it not be so?

           Now, at the least provocation, songs come into my head.  They may be the songs that others have written and I have heard and known.   Or they are sometimes songs that I make up as I go.   I used to write them down more often.  But now more often than not, I listen to my songs in my head until I am distracted by something else.  Are those songs lost forever?  They're probably somewhere deep within my mind, but unlikely to be found.

          Someday I might go on a mining expedition to dig up those buried songs.  Then again maybe I'll only be coming up with new ones.   I'll see something that inspires me and zing! another song fills my mind.   If I focus in on the song, then maybe I'll capture it.  I'll let the strings of my heart play as I write the words.

          Do you have songs in your head?    Do you ever write songs?     Do you think of your life as having a soundtrack?

          On Saturday I will return to my regular posting schedule with my A to Z Challenge Reflections for 2014.   I hope you'll join me then.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yeh Yeh #atozchallenge

Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames  "Yeh Yeh"  (1964)

Yeh Yeh

         My life has been like jazz.   Maybe a jazz symphony in like a hundred movements or more.  Themes and variations.   Music of the mind, body, heart, and soul.  My life in music.  The music of my life.

         Sometimes the melody is obvious.  You probably recognize it and might even hum along.   We're on the same track and you get it and I get it and it's like an old-fashioned sing-along.   Then there've been those times when I've gone off on some kind of improv.   I get in a groove and I'll be boppin' along or maybe just lolling low and mellow.  But I'm getting there.  Somewhere.  Maybe you're there or maybe I've left you lost far behind.

           I don't always understand jazz.  Maybe it's not meant to be understood, but to be heard, felt and wondered about with wonder and amused bemusement.  There are not necessarily any rules to jazz other than what rules might be putatively presumed by people who pretend to know all there is about music.  I think they're wrong.   Jazz can sound like many things.   And sometimes like nothing yet imagined.   Imagination set free, run wild.

           My life seems imagined at times when I look backward.   There are stories there.  Stories to be told and some to be held hostage in the secret places of my memory.   If I unleash my mind's treasury of memory, should it come in chapters, in books, in suspicious furtive looks.   This canister of thunken thoughts that I call my brain:   Will it safely retain the stories until they are lain down in written words that dance, that flow, that stumble across the paper or across my field of vision on my eyestrain computer screen?

           "Hurry, you've got a solo coming," the bandleader says, which is ironic since I am the leader of my band.  Play well and stay in tune unless discordant notes are called for.  Experimentation in the writing I do is sometimes my playful toil.   It's jazz after all, this thing that's my life.

          Accentuate the positive and play the sad parts sweet and low.  Slow down on the reflective passages and speed through the mundanities of the rush rush daily grind of life's same story.   It's a jazz life told in syncopations and synchronicities.   Tick tock, the clock counts the rhythm and time makes the rhyme.

           A good life has been lived and I aim to stay on the positive track.  Yeh, yeh.   Stay away from the downers.  Yeh, yeh.   Keep on gigging the good times in jazz.  Yeh, yeh.

          Do you tend to keep a positive outlook on life?    Have you had a tendency to be negative in your life?  Do you ever experiment with free-form writing styles or stream of consciousness?   

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Xanadu (#atozchallenge)

Olivia Newton John    "Xanadu"  (1980)


       The year 1980 lasted about four years for me--or at least it seems that way when I look back to that time.   What a roller coaster I was on!  The highs, the lows, outstanding times, depths of despair, and interminable stretches of waiting for something to happen.   But looking back having survived that year, it was a time I'd never give up.

       Let's see--during that year I worked for four different employers and lived in five different places.  I separated from my first wife and saw her move in with some guy whom I have no idea how exactly he came into the picture.   A few months later I met the woman who seemed to be my absolute soulmate and who became my wife for ten years.

        For the first six months of 1980 I was in my lowest of lows and then about the time Olivia Newton-John's "Xanadu" hit the airwaves I was feeling like I was in my own Xanadu of sorts.   Oh, my finances were not all that great and my living was not very luxurious by any means, but a burgeoning new love made up for all that.  And we were young, crazy and highly adaptable.

        My new love had worked at the marketing research company where I had come back to work after returning to Richmond so I could be closer to my son.  I had tried to get by in Tennessee working as a driver for an airport shuttle service, but by May when I had enough saved up to move up to Richmond, I high-tailed it up there.   I ached to be able to see my boy and thought maybe I could win my wife back.

          Seeing my son was in the stars.   Getting back with my wife was not.   However this new lady won me over in a big way.  She was a college student at Virginia Commonwealth University who was intellectual and seemed more mature than my first wife even though they were about the same age.   I was lonely and this vibrant lady with whom I could converse and share experiences was like starting my life over.

           Offers came in from some of my show business contacts for week stretches in exciting booking engagements.   My new girlfriend and I took the show gigs as a team.  Our jobs at the marketing research company were very flexible so we were able to sign up only for hours we wanted to work. If we wanted to leave for a week that was just fine.  We were always able to come back there to work and since we were both very good at what we did, our names were high on the list in the event that too many were wanting to work.   Also, my new companion was off from school for the summer so she was free to go as she wished.  

           We had it made as far as adventure and fun.  It was like a poor man's Xanadu.  They were good times and a preview of the decade we had ahead of us.

             Did you take advantage of travel opportunities when you were younger?    Did you ever experience a love on the rebound?   What are some of the jobs you had before you established yourself in your primary career?  

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

What I Did For Love (#atozchallenge)


A Chorus Line   "What I Did For Love" (1975)

What I Did For Love

         Love is like the fuel that moves us though life.  We all want to be loved and we need someone--or something--to love.   The love to motivate us.  Inspire us. Comfort us.   Love is one of the basic needs of survival.

         My parents showed great love for me and my siblings.  We never lacked for anything and had more than we ever needed.  I tried my best to do the same for my own children and to a great extent I think I succeeded.   I could have done better for my son, but I believe my daughters felt very loved.  They tell me so now and they've all grown to be happy well-adjusted women who are doing the same for their children.  Some aspects of love are learned from the experiences of childhood.   I did my best for my daughters.

         There is a certain amount of sacrifice involved in loving.  I prefer not to think of it as sacrifice as much as a sort of moral obligation and a driving need to give those whom we love the love that we want for ourselves.  It's the Golden Rule.  It should all come naturally, but for some I guess it doesn't.  That's something that I don't understand, but maybe that's because I've never been beaten down in life.   I have always been loved even when I didn't feel so loved.

           Others have hurt me and I know I've hurt people.  I never wanted to--not deep inside--but sometimes in anger we can lash out.  We can say the regrettable, speaking the words that cut deep and become difficult to forget.   And cruel cutting words have been said to me more than I would have liked.

           Loving is a risk that we take in our lives.  Sometimes we win and when we lose the losses can be huge.  When the hurt has come I have tried to hate, but the hatred, the anger, the hurt are temporary.  For me at least that is the case.  I've let things go.  Or perhaps I just have a lousy memory.

           There is no lost love in my life, only love tucked neatly away in a sad darkened corner of my memory. True love never dies.  How can it?  It's something that existed in time and therefore exists in eternity.  If I once felt love then that love is still there.  Somewhere.  I might not admit it.  I can't admit it to some for they might misunderstand.  Sometimes people get confused by love.

          What have I done in my life for love?   I have allowed myself to become vulnerable.  I have laid my soul bare at the risk of being hurt.   I have been willing to let my obsequious tears flow into the invisible river that love has filled through the ages.  When I have loved I have given my weak and trembling heart into the hands of that someone whom I trusted and held in esteem.

          Betrayal and rejection has caused pain that seemed like it would be infinite.  But it wasn't.  Anger subsided.  Wretched bitterness was sweetened by the passage of time.  And as I look back on the paths that led me to where I am now I realize that all was to be as it is. Love never really dies.  Everything that has happened in my life is who I am now and that is okay.

           I did many things for love and learned many lessons.  I can never stop loving.  Never.

           Do you believe that love can ever die?    Has time diminished any bad feelings for those who may have hurt you in the past?   Do you recognize the love that is in your life now?

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Volare #atozchallenge

Dean Martin   "Volare"  (1958)


        Music always filled my family's home when I was growing up.  I recall as a very young child listening on a portable record player to 78's that belonged to my mother and ones that she'd bought for me.   I loved them all whether it was "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" in my collection or "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" in my mother's collection.   For me all music was good.

        In 1958 when we moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my parents bought brand new furniture for every room of the duplex they moved into.    The furniture they bought for this move  was the first they ever owned in their marriage.  Prior to that we'd lived in furnished rental houses.   It was like being born into a world where everything was new and for us I guess it was.

         One of the highlights of the new furniture was a hi-fi record player that they put in the dining room. The hi-fi design matched the rest of the furniture.  It was a Danish modern-looking affair light in color that stood on four dowel-like legs.  You could put a stack of LP records on the spindle and they'd play a couple hours.

         My mother would put a stack of records on and do her housecleaning while I swirled around the house acting like a kid.   I don't know where she got those first record albums but she had an assortment of compilations of the hits of the day along with albums by the popular artists like Frank Sinatra, Perez Prado, and Louis Prima with Keely Smith.  I enjoyed my mother's music and listening to it seemed to brighten her days.

         Then there was the radio.  When the hi-fi wasn't playing, the radio was often on.   The AM stations mainly played music.  I don't know if there was much in the way of talk stations then. If there was, that's not what my mother listened to in the daytime while my father was at work.  She listened to the music.

          And I listened to the music.  The boppy tunes and happy ditties.  Or sometimes it was those haunting tunes that were kind of happy and kind of sad.  Songs like "Volare" where Dean Martin sang about happy hearts and flying away and words in a mysterious language that made no sense to me.  It was a song that mystified me yet made me feel happy.

          The music of my mother and father is now my music along with so many other kinds of music. There are times I'd be content to fly off to the clouds on that old music.  In my mind, I'm still dancing in circles in the living room of that Pittsburgh duplex as my happy heart sings "Volare".

          What songs do you associate most with your childhood?    Did you have a stay-at-home mom and did she listen to music in the daytime?    How old were you when you first began to appreciate music?

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Up To His Old Tricks #atozchallenge

The Magic Show "Up To His Old Tricks"  (1974)

 Up to His Old Tricks

          When I was in junior high I saw the S.S. Adams catalog of jokes and magic tricks advertised in Boy's Life magazine and sent off a quarter to get a copy.  I convinced my mother to let me order a number of practical jokes and a few magic tricks.  The jokes were to cater to my more devious side while the magic tricks were part of a genuine interest in learning to be a magician.  I never mastered the tricks or attempted to perform them for anyone other than my parents and a few friends, but my interest in magic grew.

         From early childhood I had always been a fan of performance magic.   After taking a job with an actual touring magic show when I was 24 years of age, I became a fanatic about magic.   Traveling with the Ken Griffin Magic Show starting in the summer of 1975 I began to live and breathe magic.  Since I was hired on as stage manager I needed to become knowledgeable about the workings of the tricks we used.   Ken and his wife were old timers and had many great stories to tell about show business in general and especially other magicians.    I read magic books and looked for anything about magic I could find.

         Ken and Roberta Griffin had been touring with their illusion show since the early 1950's and had gained fame among magicians with their book Illusion Show Know How.   It was not long after I began touring with them that I realized the celebrity standing they had in magic circles.  In each town where we performed there would be fans anxious to meet the duo and I would feel proud to be affiliated with their show.

          During the two years I worked with the Griffin's show, we were booked at a number of prestigious magic events and venues that featured magic.   In the summer of 1976 a portion of our show was featured as one of the attractions at the prestigious Tannen's Magic Convention held at the legendary Brown's Resort Hotel in the Catskills region of New York.  A very young David Copperfield was also there in a breakout performance before the all magic crowd.

          After the Tannen's Convention ended, we decided to go on into New York City since we were so close.   The Broadway production The Magic Show starring Doug Henning was a big hit at that time.  I'd seen excerpts of the show on television and it was the buzz among magic fans everywhere.  Since we were there we decided that it was a must see.

            Inquiring about tickets at the box office, we were informed that the show was completely sold out.  Naturally we were immensely disappointed having come this far especially to see this show.  Roberta jotted a quick note and asked if it could be taken backstage to Doug Henning.  Someone in the box office complied and within minutes we were being whisked backstage to meet the famed hippie magician.

         I was extremely excited.about meeting this famous magician, but he seemed even more excited to meet Ken and Roberta.  He told them how their book had been a big help to him in putting together his show and that they were among his heroes.  Even though every seat in the theater was sold, Henning managed to get us permission to sit on the steps at the front of the balcony--it was an ideal vantage point actually and not at all uncomfortable since the steps were plushly carpeted.  We were able to not only see the show, but we got to see it free.   I couldn't complain about that at all.

         That incident raised my esteem of the Griffins another notch.  They may have been in their waning years of performing, but they were legendary in the world of magic.  Not only that, but Roberta was an oft published writer and Ken was a well-respected leather worker who specialized in Western leathercraft.  His book Ken Griffin's Scrap Book, a collection of leather work patterns, used to be regularly sold in the Tandy Leather Stores when they were still prevalent.

          Years later, after Ken had died, Roberta settled down in Burbank, California.  I caught up with her when I too moved to California.  One day she took me and my daughters to the Gene Autry Museum.  Among the many artifacts on display was a fine leather saddle and gun holster that had belonged to cowboy movie star Gene Autry.   The identifying placard showed that the items were the craftwork of Ken Griffin.

          They were good people with more stories than I ever heard them tell and I heard them tell many a story.  Interesting stories about a full life of experiences.  And they had a darn good magic show.

          Are you a fan of performance magic?    Do you have a favorite magician?   Have you seen any shows on Broadway?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon (#atozchallenge)

Bruce Cockburn  "Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon"  (1970)

Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon

          I was torn between going to work and going to class.   Alienation was the order of that day as it was on many of my days.   The life at the university had grown stagnant for me.  I tottered on the precipice of the present and an uncertain tomorrow.   Missing another statistics class would put me one step closer to a failing grade, while a few hours at work meant a few extra bucks in my pocket.  I opted for work.

        The walk from the campus to the place where I worked took about a half hour.  It was not a bad walk up to the main street of Knoxville through downtown to the old city district.  The sky drizzled not to a point of drenching me, but enough to dampen my hair which dangled toward my shoulders.  I strolled through town in no hurry to get to work.  They wouldn't be expecting me today anyway.  Since I was a student they let me make my own hours.

      My mind wandered as I walked in the misty rain.  I pondered my life as it was.  I wondered what I should do next.  Answers were not at hand.   Maybe I didn't really want any answers.  Getting through the week was the main thing and the weekend was the prize.  On Friday I'd need to go to the liquor store to find something unique to get high on.   Every weekend it was a new wine or maybe something stronger.   Fun times with my friends.

      Walking through the desolate warehouse district the musty smells of the abandoned crumbling buildings mingled with the burnt toast odor of the JFG Coffee Company.   They must have been roasting a batch of beans.  "The best part of the meal" is what the JFG sign advertised.   I didn't drink coffee back then and that smell didn't entice me to want it.  JFG was a Knoxville tradition and the star of Jackson Avenue.

       That old street--Jackson Avenue--was the location of my place of work.  The rain gave the first block of the street a particularly gloomy look.  When I came to the old Sullivan Saloon at the corner of Jackson and Central I paused.  The old building that had apparently sat there empty since the early 1900's was a fine looking place that I liked to admire.  What was inside that building?  I was so curious.

        This corner was a point of congregation for winos and other lost souls.  It was almost as though they were waiting for the saloon to reopen.   In an empty plot across from the ghost saloon, homeless men would sometimes have makeshift shelters set up until the police would come to make them move.

        Huddled on a stoop of the saloon were Herbert and Foster, a couple of middle-aged black men who were not homeless but lived nearby.  Since it was afternoon they were glassy eyed wasted and didn't pay much attention to me as I passed.  They would pick up a couple hours of work at the local businesses when they needed some money.  Sometimes I'd go to the corner to get them to help me unload a truck.  They always reeked of alcohol, but they were dependable for work in the mornings.   By afternoon, after they'd downed a bottle or two of Mad Dog 20/20, they'd be too intoxicated to be good for anything.  That's how they were as I passed them on this day.

        There had to be a better future for me.   Wine on the weekends maybe, but some fellows had no control.  Or maybe it was something else.  Maybe it was more of a question of future and opportunity.  I had both.

         Have you ever hung out with homeless people or winos?    Did you work your way through college?   Do you enjoy walking through downtown areas?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Standing Still #atozchallenge

The Association  "Standing Still"  (1966)

Standing Still

         Time can be such a mind-bender.   Time toys with us, leading us to believe that we have all the time in the world.   There are those ever so brief periods when time seems to move in slow motion or even come to a stand still.   Then suddenly the moment is behind us, frozen in memory, sometimes fading into the hazy realm of the forgotten or misremembered.

         I think of the mundane like waiting in lines or sitting in the doctor's office.  Sitting in the dentist chair waiting for the discomfort to be over.  Lying on a hospital bed in the emergency room waiting for the approval to be released.   There are those frustrating stretches of being late, being in a hurry, and being stuck in traffic where all the universe seems to have ground to a halt.   I curse the clock and tension mounts.  Then suddenly the waiting is over and I begin waiting for the next thing in life to happen.

         Then there are those moments of supreme serenity when all seems well and I have latched on to a bliss that will extend to forever.  Falling in love for example.  Long leisurely walks or hours of togetherness with that someone with whom I feel secure in knowing that I have felt unending love.   That is until it does end and time stands still with sadness and confusion.

        Some of my best moments where time has come to a standstill have been times alone.  In younger days I would often take long walks in the mountains to find a place to sit and contemplate.  What might have been mere minutes became immeasurable stretches of time by my calculations if there had been any calculating to be done.   They were times when I was accountable to only myself for the most part.   No one cared how I was spending my time.   Time standing still was a permissible event.  The stillness of time was my acceptance of allowing leisure into my existence.  

         The illusion of time stopping can be a rebellion against the constraints of our daily prison of responsibility or a surrender to the circumstances of life over which we have no control.  Either way time appearing to stand still or slow down is just an illusion.  The clock continues to tick and the world continues to turn.  My days are marked off on the calendar of my life like a depleting bank account where no deposits are ever made.

         When does time seems to stand still for you?    Are you more aware of time now than you used to be?  Have you used your time wisely?    How do you squander your time?

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Rainbow Connection #atozchallenge

Kermit the Frog  "Rainbow Connection"  (1979)

The Rainbow Connection

          In a relationship, everything changes when a kid comes along.  My first wife and I had been married hardly a year before our son was born.    We'd met while traveling with the Ken Griffin Magic Show and were married within two months.   A pregnancy meant that we were going to have to reevaluate our life together--at least for a while.

          To her credit, my wife was a real trouper in dealing with the road life and being pregnant when she was only nineteen.    She continued working in the show and living the nomad show business existence for several months.  Then as the delivery time approached we decided that she would go back to her home town of Richmond, Virginia while I finished out the tour with the show after which I would join her.

         My wife went on ahead and secured an apartment in a vast complex across from the Regency Square Shopping Mall northwest of downtown Richmond in Henrico County.  It was a newer up and coming area not far from the hospital where our baby would be born.

          By the time I arrived, she had neatly set up housekeeping and seemed very content with her new domestic life.  The baby's arrival was about a month and a half away.  I was apprehensive about our new life, but becoming excited about the arrival of our child.

          I began working at a marketing research company where my wife had found a job.   Doing telephone surveys was not overly dissimilar to the telephone promotion work that we had to sometimes do while working the show except it was easier since we weren't selling anything.  The working environment was comfortable and I fit in well with the other employees and the executive staff.  The work was mostly in the afternoons and evenings which meant I didn't have to wake up early.  The hours were what I had been accustomed to.

          It was mid July when my wife began to feel the baby coming.   It was hot.  Miserably so.  While I was at work on that day, my wife had the moral support of one of her friends.  My wife had heard that walking would speed up the baby's arrival so she walked around the air-conditioned apartment most of the day.  Still no baby.

          When I got home from work she was still walking and waiting.  Her friend left since I was now there. I changed into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.   I rarely wore shorts, but even at 9 PM it was sweltering and extremely humid.   If I was feeling so uncomfortable I could only imagine how my wife must have felt.

            We rested and dozed until around 1 AM when my wife woke me to let me know it was time.  We grabbed the overnight bag that was waiting and headed to the car.   The air was so laden with moisture you couldn't tell where it ended and your sweat began.  I drove with my window down trying to catch as much breeze as I could.

             In the darkened sky heavy clouds were gathering.  Lightning flashed on the horizon.  I wasn't sure if the electrical discharge was from the heat or an approaching storm.  Maybe it was an omen announcing the birth of our child.   Whether or not there was rain coming, I began thinking of a lifetime filled with rainbows. A love for my young wife welled within me like a warm flood.   We would soon be parents.

          Our son arrived quickly and without complication.  Since I had participated in birthing classes I was permitted in the delivery room.   The miracle of the boy baby's arrival was like nothing I had ever witnessed before.    I was bursting with pride in this beautiful baby boy.  I wanted to show him to everyone.  No one had ever seen such a beautiful baby as this.

        After the baby's arrival and things were more subdued, my wife slept.   I went to the waiting area to use the pay phone.  I had to call someone to tell them even though it was four in the morning.  I called my friend Marvin.  He answered groggily and congratulated me after I told him the news.   As I paced around the waiting room my mind raced.  Did I need to get a box of cigars?   Who did I know who smoked cigars anyway?

         The hospital staff recommended that I go home and rest while my wife was recuperating.   If it was determined that all was well I would be able to take my family home that afternoon.   Like being in the happiest dream I could ever imagine, I went to my car and drove home.

          Even at this hour it was still hot and humid.  There were still clouds, but there was no rain.  From all appearances today would be another bright sunny day.   No rain meant no rainbows in the sky, but metaphorical rainbows permeated every part of me.

          I was now a father.

          What experience in your life did you have a big build up for?    Did things pan out as you dreamed?   How do you think having children changes a person?

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