• Larry and His Very Busy Community Theater
    By Micah Granderson
    There was a large parking lot on South Post in Yongsan. It served as a general purpose
    space for a number of surrounding facilities. Toy-Land, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, and
    an odd little fried chicken take out counter. On a drizzly day a platoon of soldiers would
    be using the lot as an assembling area for going out to the field. Large Deuce and a Half
    trucks gurgled in their deep bass rhythms. Soldiers threw in packs and climbed up to the
    bench seating.
    Along the north end of the parking lot stretched a very long, brown quonset hut. The old
    military structure matched the overall scene in every way except for a back lit sign over
    double doors. Its letters had been arranged to read “PERFORMANCE ARTS CENTER”
    “THE MUSIC MAN” “7PM THUR, FRI & SAT”.
    This old military quonset hut hid a little menagerie of dreams. Stage lights, makeup
    mirrors, and twelve suits of roman armor amongst other things. It might seem a little
    incongruous to the military mission, but actually, a number of posts around the world had
    active community theater groups. The Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office was
    tasked with providing various activities around the post with an eye towards relaxation
    and creative expression. The working theory of the office was something like this: if a
    young serviceman was going to come into the military at the age of eighteen and be
    assigned to an overseas military base for three of his most precious, self-defining years of
    his life, he might stay a little more mentally stimulated, positive, and likely to re-enlist if
    he rounded out his character with a few non-military electives. So MWR setup block
    parties, constructed soundproof rooms stocked with electric guitars, bought pottery
    wheels, ran woodworking shops, photo development labs, model aircraft clubs, and
    whatever else might stimulate the mind of a newly minted adult. On Yongsan Military
    Garrison this eclectic list included a fully equipped community theater.
    A few hard-nosed military types sometimes sneered at these activities and suggested that
    the MWR budget would be better spent on pool tables and a good cigar lounge. But
    inevitably sometime in the calendar year a random young soldier would put a brick
    through a windshield or get arrested by the local authorities for diving off a bridge to
    impress his friends. Then talk and the budget would be return to anything that was likely
    to keep hands out of the devil’s workshop.
    The people running these programs were mostly local Korean employees and US
    civilians, both groups were likely former military and able to identify with the young
    soldiers. It was paid employment, but it really seemed to be a very heartfelt assignment
    that many committed to for decades, even when they probably could have earned more
    elsewhere. A lot of people coming overseas to Yongsan expected to sort of hold their
    breath and do the time. The MWR employees got to connect with those people and
    convince them to relax, explore Korea, pick up a hobby, and do some personal growth in
    that season of their life instead.
    One of the key heart-feeling souls behind the Performance Arts Center was a man named
    Larry Chandler. Larry’s story, as best I can gather, is that he majored in the Performance
    Arts in college, enlisted in the military upon finishing, and thus wound up in Korea
    stationed at Yongsan. In the late 60’s he left the military to pursue his dream of stage
    directing with a short-term job in Las Cruces, New Mexico but then caught wind of a
    new position being opened up at his old haunt of the Yongsan military garrison. They
    needed someone to act as an official liaison for performance and music entertainment.
    Military dignitaries, singers, and movie stars would tour military bases and they needed
    Larry to coordinate these special events … making sure the star received adequate
    hospitality, a stage was setup, a couple thousand uniformed men had somewhere to sit,
    and a public address system was working. The position also included some leeway to
    create some related morale building programs for the community between those events.
    For Larry, that last bit was where the community theater came in.
    The layout of the Performance Arts Center was very linear and narrow since the military
    structure was truly one long half tube. To reach any section you had to walk through the
    others or exit and walk around to a handful of side doors. Stomping up some very steep
    concrete steps, you reached the front double doors then stepped into a small foyer.
    Directly across was the box office window. If a play wasn’t in progress, then the desk
    phone was usually stuffed through the small cash window. It was before cell phones and
    everyone always asked for it anyways, so Larry just left it there in self-defense. The
    inside of the box office was also his office, a bit cluttered with band itineraries, stacks of
    play posters, and rehearsal scripts. Stepping back to the right, there were the two double
    doors leading into the theater. Risers with rows of brown plastic chairs loomed out of the
    darkness as you stepped through. Strolling alongside the risers, the arch of the stage came
    into view. Ducking into a narrow door on either side of the arch would bring you into the
    wings of the backstage. On your one side was the curving wall of the quonset hut and on
    the other, rows of very steep steps that led up onto the stage platform. I recall that coming
    off the stage in the dark during a performance was a bit of a trick. You had to step down
    abruptly while also ducking the AC vent that ran around the wall of the building.
    Ambling back through the darkness, around the edge of the stage, you would finally spy
    the slit of a curtain with fluorescent light shining through. Pushing through, you arrived
    in the main backstage area with large stage flats stacked along the walls, the smell of
    paint thinner, and the younger Mr. Pak, brush in hand, crafting the dazzling set pieces of
    the next show. Just outside the open doors, the elder Mr. Pak (always in his boonie hat)
    and Mr. Son, applied primer to a new flat on sawhorses. Along the wall to the left were
    two partitioned rooms: the men’s and women’s dressing rooms. Inside there were
    counters and mirrors ringed with lights. Finally, there was a long flight of metal steps that
    led up to the costume loft. Larry kept that door locked at all times. The few times I made
    it inside revealed an astounding number of costumes accumulated over decades of shows
    from every era and fantasy. Apparently, the temptation for cast members to play dress-up
    and make a general mess of things was just a bit too much.
    There was one more room in the Performance Arts Center. It was the space below that
    costume loft. But this room opened only to the outside of the building. It was where Larry
    and Mr. Son stored all the public address gear. For all the decades that Larry worked on
    Yongsan, he never shed his duties as the PA guy. Every time there was a large event, he
    piled massive speaker cabinets into the back of a very small Kia truck and headed down
    the road.
    I personally became aware of the PAC almost as soon as we got to Korea when I was
    only six years old. Larry ran a small one-hour production every year for each grade of the
    neighboring elementary school. So, I filed through the foyer in a line of first graders to
    see a rendition of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” There was a beautiful set with a
    forest and castle room. Soldiers and civilians played the characters. The woman playing
    the evil queen was especially effective with her heavy eyebrow makeup, cape, and
    booming voice. “Oh man, she scares me,” I said to the boy next to me. “That’s my mom”
    he replied. She was in fact.
    I looked all around and soaked up the magic of the theater. The makeup, costumes, set
    pieces, stage lights, and a strange little window near the ceiling where I could see just the
    eyebrows of someone wearing a microphone headset. He glared down at the stage and
    reached around to adjust knobs and levers that were out of sight.
    So, I ran home and said to my mother, “I want to act in a theater.” My mother loved us all
    dearly and was a fan of our interests and pursuits, even to a fault. She loved the arts in a
    non-specific “arts for the masses” way from the Kennedy-era. When I was four years old,
    I took over the family stereo system and played our four classical records until everyone
    got tired of it and moved the stereo into my room. My mother decided that was a habit to
    be encouraged and scoured yard sales and secondhand stores for every music record of
    Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven she could find and bring home to me. I still have that
    massive pile of LPs. But stage acting was a little outside of her scope. She didn’t say,
    “how about junior summer stock in the Catskills?” She said, “how about we find some
    books on acting next time we are at the library?” So, the two of us did. That night as the
    family left the library, all the siblings had to choose just one book to check out. Except
    myself; I was allowed three. I was on a mission, after all.
    My engineer Father took a job outside of Seoul and my first-grader thespian aspirations
    faded a tad. But about a year later, we transferred back to Yongsan and got an apartment
    off base. There was one other American family living there and pretty soon we were
    introduced to Edward Kanciruk, Jane Evans, and their three children. Mr. Ed was an
    engineer like my father; he liked to cook huge pans of Ukrainian bread, had reportedly
    crashed an airplane at one point in his life, and sported a mustache so wide and
    aerodynamic that he looked as if he might take flight again at any moment. Ms. Jane was
    from California and had a cadence of candor and gentle snark that was altogether
    different from my parents. Their family in general had a whole different vibe, and I was
    at the age where I found that difference curious and interesting. A bit sharper and edgier
    in their speech, interesting books on the shelves about the creative arts, and a fully
    functional spinning wheel in one corner for no apparent reason. Pretty cool in my thirdgrade
    mind.
    Then one afternoon Ms. Jane was chatting with my mother about years past and
    happened to drop the phrase “so at that point in my life I was living in Hollywood with
    my boyfriend on Gramercy street, right under the Hollywood sign.” I jumped into the
    conversation and started spluttering, “Hollywood? That Hollywood? MGM, Parramount,
    Warner Hollywood?” Yes, it was that Hollywood. Ms. Jane was a bit dismissive, talking
    about it as a phase in her life. But the whole showbiz dream was revived in my mind.
    The overseas crowd attached to the military is really something quite special. You have
    people of all walks of life and backgrounds snatched from all over the US and thrown
    together in a community for a few years. I didn’t really know or really even have the
    knowledge to appreciate it, but if I was looking for someone with knowledge of acting, I
    had hit the jackpot. Yes, Ms. Jane had spent time living under the Hollywood sign, but it
    wasn’t by whim and a VW that got her there. She had studied acting for years at Santa
    Monica College and Monterey Peninsula. I went from having no one to talk to about this
    theater infatuation, to someone that had more knowledge than I could even relate to. I
    would beg her,
    “Hey, don’t you think we could get everyone together and perform the musical Oliver?”
    “Oh, I don’t know dear heart. That’s a very big show- you would need an orchestra and at
    least forty cast.”
    “How about if we all played two characters?”
    “How about a show that’s actually written for your age? There is this amazing one act
    where all the actors pretend to be part of the audience, and then when the play begins,
    they just stand up and start speaking. The audience suddenly realizes that they are the
    stage.”
    I wasn’t so sure.
    “Can we just do one scene from Oliver?”
    Ms. Jane eventually connected with the Performance Arts Center and became a regular in
    their programs, usually as the stage manager.
    Most of the plays performed were modern dramas with adult casts. I was young and
    never had the nerve to just show up for an audition. But I did find an outlet to experiment
    with. Video cameras were a luxury item back in the 80’s costing thousands of dollars, but
    just in the early 90s, a few models started being sold in the low hundreds. My brother and
    I pooled our money and bought one. We immediately set about trying to make our own
    movies. We eventually became old enough to work summer hire jobs and kept buying
    various mixers and editing gear. Now a short film can be completely shot and edited on a
    cell phone, but back then our arsenal of video gear was quite rare and unique. We became
    “those boys that made the movies” on Yongsan and attracted a small gang of nerdy kids
    who thought that was cool. We were also making Korean friends off base. One was a very
    good buddy named Eric who became a lifelong friend. He was actually a good deal older
    and a college art major, so suddenly our little productions had amazingly good title cards
    and props. Pierce Brosnan had just taken over as a very popular James Bond, and disaster
    movies were all the rage. So that was what we loved best … guns, stunts, explosions, and
    volcanoes were the main subjects. We found that we could get a laugh- eventually, we
    settled mostly into making parodies of those sorts of movies. Watching the tapes now, it
    is fun to see how our sense of entertainment grew by degrees with each film. We would
    show our complete film to absolutely everyone we came in contact with. We carried the
    tapes in our backpacks and looked around at any gathering that had a VCR present.
    Going to eat dinner with the neighbors, the church Sunday School room, a tour bus that
    had a screen mounted over the aisle …the moment we spotted a VHS deck, we would
    pull the tape from our backpacks and say, “Can we put this on for five minutes?” We
    carefully noted where people laughed and where they didn’t, and slowly our variety of
    gags, comic timing, and staging got a little better. I worked up the courage to call Larry
    Chandler and ask if I could borrow some costumes. He generously unlocked his precious
    costume loft and let me have a few.
    Mother and father loved our little productions and proudly introduced their boys with,
    “they have a VHS they want to show you.” My father did take us aside once and asked if
    we could try to make films without gun violence. We took this as “less gun violence.”
    Our mother asked us to stop having our female friends slinky dance even if they were
    supposed to be bond girls. We reshot the scene with the house cat playing the role
    instead. It got a laugh.
    The parents had a passion for travel and meeting new cultures. They had an easygoing,
    genuine nature about them. Being one of the older couples in the military chapel, they
    easily attracted the attention of the younger soldiers that needed a substitute mom and
    dad. Young servicemen would come running to our living room in tears, emotionally
    destroyed, sometimes having been just served divorce papers, needing a good shoulder to
    cry on. Young Korean college students became friends and strolled in without knocking.
    The parents always had a heart for the needy. My Mr. Showbiz streak wasn’t entirely
    along these lines, but they found our silly films broke the ice at gatherings and got
    everyone talking.
    Once a family from the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo started attending our
    church. Suddenly the husband of the family was scooped up by Immigration authorities
    while the mother was left abandoned and destitute. My parents invited them into our
    house.
    So, we had a tall, willowy woman from Congo in our house, gliding into the kitchen to
    prepare breakfast for her two little ones and then retreating to her room. I never saw her
    cry even once, but one look at her drooping shoulders hovering over the stove and you
    knew she never really stopped. Their plight became something of a family project; every
    twist and turn of the court case becoming dinner table conversation. My mother worked
    the phone at all hours. The rest of us, mostly in our teenage years, scattered out around
    the city to deliver papers to court offices and sit in the waiting room of the Embassy of
    Zambia. “Ambassador Sir, this is your next appointment. Young master Granderson has a
    paper to deliver in person.” I stood in my sweaty gym pants remembering my mother had
    told me to change to slacks before leaving.
    In the midst of all this work connected to harsher aspects of society, I was still a kid with
    my own carefully collected bag of dreams and ideas. I was having immense fun with our
    video projects but wanted to do some project where I could really define myself.
    Something big and bold that would make everyone sit up and take notice. The plan I
    settled on was to take everything I loved from our home-brewed movies, the comedies I
    liked- everything- and write a big, hilarious stage show and invite all my friends to play
    all the parts. We would rent out one of the stages on the base, put up posters, and just see
    what happened. I labored on the plan for weeks, scribbling down bits of dialog and
    carefully drafted stage diagrams.
    I was at the lunch table and felt the conversation had drifted in a direction where I could
    introduce the master plan to my mother. I started breathlessly laying it all out in minute
    detail. About halfway through, I could tell I was losing her, so I started to talk faster.
    Then I realized I hadn’t changed out of my running clothes that morning. She was
    judging the lack of clothing change and not the idea, I knew it. I talked faster. Mother was
    looking confused. The whole thing was imploding. I became a sweaty mess of teenage
    frustrations. It wasn’t the plan she wasn’t getting, she didn’t get any of it, she didn’t get
    me. Finally, she spoke with confusion and a measure of sincere care. “Well, that sounds
    really creative and fun, but why rent out a theater? Can’t you just do it here in the living
    room? Invite some friends over?” There was the full script I had tapped out on the
    keyboard for weeks. A stage diagram that was exactly fifty feet wide, same as the stage I
    had measured toe to heel. “Let’s perform it in the living room?” I could have slowed
    down and tried to explain my feelings, but the hurt and hormones shot past reason like a
    runaway locomotive. “Because it would be stupid! No one would get it! Nobody ever
    gets it, and it’s so stupid!” I took my eyes away from her. That was a mistake. I was at the
    table completely surrounded by angry siblings with none of the paternal care and a
    measure of liquid rage at possibly being called stupid. So, my eyes slid around the table
    and finally landed at the only place they could. The eyes of the refugee woman, she
    returned my gaze with the sad commiseration and understanding of pain in a way of
    someone whose spouse was incarcerated and future was far from certain.
    I did the lunch dishes for possibly calling everyone stupid and dinner’s as well. Mother
    started to say something a few times, but she wasn’t quite sure what to do. She wanted to
    help this eager, energetic son to find success but had a hard time trying to figure out what
    success really looked liked. She only hoped it wasn’t me dancing under the Hollywood
    sign high on cocaine. Finally, she talked to me that night as I slumped on my pillow.
    “Listen, I only asked if you wanted to perform it in the living room because you have
    never done anything like this before. Wouldn’t you need to rehearse it and try it out on
    some people first? But why do it right away? Why not ask Larry if you can volunteer at
    the PAC as his assistant and try to study theater?” I sniffed. My feelings were still very
    bruised, but I had to admit that this was brave and uncharted territory for my mother.
    Associating with the theater crowd for hours on end was a half step closer to cocaine, so
    she was actually showing a whole new level of trust in me.
    A while later Ms. Jane asked if I would like to sit in the back of the PAC auditorium and
    watch a rehearsal of “Little Mary Sunshine.” Larry was in command. He stood at the
    corner of the stage in front a folding table with all of his show materials arranged on it.
    He was fairly short, wore a large sweater, had a small peppery gray beard, and a pair of
    reading glasses on straps. He spoke loudly but with a casual tone, “So everyone go back
    to your first position, and lets pick it up from ‘And We Shan’t Do This and We Shan’t Do
    That.’” Actors shuffled into position, the pianist thumped away on an old upright missing
    half its varnish, and everyone on the stage burst into song. Larry dropped his reading
    glasses down onto his chest, put a hand to his chin, and lightly tapped the rhythm of the
    song with a heel. A moment later he called a halt to the action and bounded up the steps.
    He suggested a slight change to the waltz step. Larry was remarkably quick and agile
    with his dance steps in way that belied his very casual and frumpy appearance.
    I didn’t go to rehearsal expecting very much. Being at the PAC was always a treat. I
    saved my money to buy tickets to Gramercy Ghost and You’re a Good Man Charlie
    Brown. But my previous experience with rehearsals was with church or school plays
    where hoarse and frantic teachers mud raked young actors into different standing
    configurations and pleaded with everyone to use their big voice. Sitting behind Larry, I
    had a similar vantage point as him and could just begin to see how he worked. It wasn’t
    entirely dissimilar to the process that my brother and I had come up with, organically, to
    improve our little movie projects. But Larry exercised it as a formal process, and very
    quickly. He would suggest changes. The women were carrying croquet mallets and Larry
    thought it might fun if they twisted the handles of the mallets as they swayed through the
    song. They ran the stanza of the song again. The mallets were random and distracting
    from the choreography. Larry thought they might have to drop the idea, but first he
    bounded up the steps again and borrowed a mallet from the nearest singer. Maybe if the
    handle of the mallet rested in the left hand while the right hand twisted the shaft, one
    stroke of the thumb and index finger for every beat of the song. The stanza was run again,
    and eleven mallets spun in unison. Perfect.
    I got the occasional odd job around the PAC, usually at Ms. Jane’s suggestion. I ran the
    lights for one show. At long last I was that pair of eyebrows frowning down from the
    small window up near the ceiling! Ms. Jane was stage manager and methodically called
    the cues from her hiding place just off the left of the stage. “House light down, house
    curtain, dancers are coming on stage right, and lights up down stage.” I flicked all the
    lights into the first configuration and then slowly pressed up on the sliders, watching the
    stage like a hawk to be sure it was coming up correctly.
    My mother had been right. It might have been fun to stage my own production- I
    certainly would have gotten a more central role- but I hadn’t really admitted to myself
    what was at the center of my plan: a safety net. If I did my own project, there would be
    zero expectations. Anyone who bothered to show up would say it was fun and very
    creative. Much like the home movies, there would have been something to learn along the
    way, but with no one providing instruction, it would mostly just have been us goofing
    around and having fun. But now, even with a small responsibility in this PAC show, I was
    sweating bullets and trying incredibly hard not to screw up. If my pinky slipped on a
    slider, I would wreck the show. Not my show, everyone’s show. The show that hundreds
    of people had come to see. With expectations. With money spent on tickets for those
    expectations! So, I had roosted up there in the booth through every tech rehearsal
    carefully jotting down all my cues in a huge legal pad as the director called for lighting
    changes.
    The shows naturally still catered to roles suitable for soldier participation, but Ms. Jane
    organized some productions specifically for the younger crowd in what became “The
    Yongsan Youth Drama Club.” She selected material that was quite varied: comedies,
    dramas, and dramatic poetry recitations. Kids from all over the post and many of my
    siblings joined in. One show was a short piece about students in a classroom as the nation
    had been conquered by Communists in World War Three. It was age appropriate but
    affecting stuff, not chants and songs in candy cane costumes. She actually wanted us to
    experience theater and what it was like to develop on a character.
    There was one spontaneous incident that has stayed with me over all these years as quite
    telling and remarkable about that little youth drama club. Ms. Jane had created a show
    with acts taken from Shakespeare. I was in a portion from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
    The plot was about a motley crew of untalented peasants that decide to enter a
    competition to present a play before the royal court of the land. They try to practice a
    melodrama, but absolutely everything goes hilariously wrong from the start. It is a
    touchstone of comedy in the history of western drama, and Ms. Jane wanted us, a pack of
    kids, to give it a try. She carefully explained the motivation for each of our characters and
    taught us about comedic timing, setting gags up and paying them off. We were very deep
    in rehearsal one day, standing at our various marks around the stage when I saw some
    movement at the back entrance of the theater. A couple of boys, middle schoolers, had
    wandered in off the street and were standing there watching. We had been working on the
    show for a very long time but weren’t in costumes yet, just practicing in street clothes,
    blowing our lines, and all a bit tired after a long day of practice. The two of them just
    stood there, leering at us, and making me self conscious. They put their heads together
    and then one blew a very loud raspberry, laughed, and ran out the door. Ms. Jane told us
    to continue and walked out of the room after them. I thought she had just gone to lock the
    door, but sometime later she came back in with both the boys and sat them down on the
    front row. I was a bit taken aback and felt Ms. Jane wasn’t doing us any favors bringing
    these two back into the room. But ten minutes later we were back into another rehearsal
    run and had forgotten they were there. Everything was plodding along when we reached
    the climactic scene where the townspeople’s effort begins turning into a disaster.
    Suddenly we heard large howls of laughter from the front row. Not snickering, but hearty
    bellows of glee. The action continued, and they continued howling at every punchline. It
    just kept coming. One of them even flopped over on the chairs he was laughing so hard.
    We had been working at it so long, doggedly, we had almost forgotten the material was
    supposed to be funny. Suddenly each punchline, pregnant pause, carefully rehearsed
    sideways look was paying off in peals of laughter … and from a very tough audience! All
    in one unexpected moment we could see the work paying off. When we reached the end
    of that run, the boys came up to the edge of the stage and told us it was great and kept
    yelling support over their shoulder as they finally left for good out the back of the theater.
    The whole odd little incident was so telling to me. I wish somehow there was a way to
    take a moment like that, frame it, and put it on the wall.
    Naturally, not everyone that participates community theater goes on to an acting career or
    necessarily any theater-specific vocation. Of course, there are lots of related skills that
    come into play in everyday life. Public speaking, presentation, teamwork, confidence,
    and the rest. Really, I feel there was something far more profound to be learned from
    someone like Larry or Ms. Jane. The word that springs to mind is “craft.” Not the more
    modern notion of a casual hobby craft, but an older sense of the word, a lifelong pursuit
    of a skill. There are things you might try to learn in life by taking a class, or many classes
    like a four-year degree, or even make a decade-long haul to get a doctorate. But that isn’t
    the same as when you dedicate your life to the passionate pursuit of skill. There is no
    certificate, and the goalpost gets pushed back so many times, it disappears, and you really
    forget about it all together. All you know is that you want to go to your grave trying every
    day to improve slightly at this skill from the day before. To communicate with your
    fellow human on a slightly more meaningful level, to scratch just a bit below the surface
    and find the truth of it all. For so many of us that had that golden opportunity to be
    around the PAC, that’s what we really came away with. The chance as young people, to
    be around genuine souls that taught and exemplified how to find that gentle way of
    becoming a sold-out student of life.
    Suddenly the Youth Drama Club, the PAC, and Larry’s near three decades of service
    came to an anticlimactic end. Space for new facilities on Yongsan was always desperately
    short. Every commander that took over the post wanted to know why some of that
    precious space was occupied by the massive old quonset hut, and every time the
    community rallied to keep the beloved old barn around. But one day the community
    services building burned to the ground, displacing hundreds of office workers. The
    command informed Larry that he had days to clear the building and make it available.
    It was a sad and soggy day when the contents of Larry’s precious costume loft sat piled in
    cardboard boxes in the parking lot waiting for the disposal truck to come. He decided to
    pull out enough costumes and props to mount one last production- “Scrooge,” one of his
    favorite shows that “always put him in the Christmas spirit.” We performed it in the
    Moyer Rec auditorium on main post. That space was constructed as the old enlisted
    movie theater and wasn’t designed for stage plays. Practically no back stage and a very
    shallow performance area, it was like trying to put on a show in a hallway. I got a last
    chance to be assistant stage manager to Ms. Jane, making sure everyone on the opposite
    side of the stage was queued up, props in hand. Larry sat where he always did during the
    shows, on a little riser at the very back of the auditorium, his arm around a tripodmounted
    video camera. Their silhouette back there made for an odd couple. Larry had
    been looking at retirement for some time and decided that day had come at last. We tried
    to organize a farewell event, but he refused. He was humble and intensely uncomfortable,
    even to the point of being combative when confronted with effusive praise. We asked him
    if he would at least come to the stage and let us give him a gift on the last night curtain
    call. He agreed to that, received it graciously, and thanked everyone. Then a few days
    later, he boarded a flight and left Korea, never to return.
    Our family moved away a year later.
    Ms. Jane and her family moved back to the US to the community of Enterprise, Alabama.
    She promptly became involved with dramas for her church and later a community theater.
    Helping and educating another crop of theater enthusiasts. Our families have visited and
    stayed in touch over the years.
    The refugee family living in our house had a very tough road ahead of them, but years
    later were at last reunited and happily settled in Europe.
    The little club of movie makers that my brother and I organized was oddly very effective,
    by inspiration or chance I’m not sure. Two of its participants went on to success in
    Hollywood. One directed a short film that received an Academy Award nomination. Eric,
    our art school friend, is now a very hardworking art director for over a decade on big
    projects for the likes of Fox, Warner, and Disney. I had the pleasure of visiting him
    recently. We stood on a massive sound stage at Fox Studios, as carpenters ran about
    assembling the setting of a county morgue, complete with freezers and gurneys. What an
    amazing and funny place to be talking over old times with a friend. I’ve mostly stayed
    out of Hollywood but have a remained a lifelong participant and patron of the arts
    wherever life has taken me.
    Over the years I kept wanting to talk to Larry and tell him just how much his community
    theater meant to us. I saw through various online announcements that he and his wife
    lived in Las Cruses, New Mexico, and he was directing community theater again. That
    made me happy. I tried a few times to write him but never got a reply. Maybe he wasn’t
    adept at modern communication platforms, or maybe it was his more general discomfort
    with praise and rehashing the past.
    Then I one day after remembering the PAC to a friend, I looked him up once more and
    came face to face with his obituary. I was a rather stunned, even to an extent that it
    surprised me. I was sad and felt for his family whom I had never met, but there was
    something even more specific clawing at my mind that I couldn’t come to terms with.
    Some clarity came to me after a while. Larry was a bit of an enigma. I never once heard
    him dwell on life, the past, other hobbies, or really anything outside of the theater. He
    was always his pleasant self and worked relentlessly on his shows. The merry band at the
    Performance Arts Center staged between five and seven shows a year, which is a
    breakneck pace for a community theater. Looking up to him as a kid, I thought, “Man, if
    anyone deserves to leave Yongsan and be a raging success on Broadway, it’s that guy!” It
    wasn’t the whole story, but from my limited perspective, it just seemed like it went
    straight from that adulation of this person I respected, to seeing him in that parking lot
    with all of his work piled in cardboard boxes, to now, decades later, reading his obituary.
    Now, here I was, a middle-aged guy looking back at it all and wondering, “Larry worked
    so hard. In the end, did he get what he wanted?”
    John Nowell is one of a handful of people that go back decades in continuous life and
    work at Yongsan. He was very good friend of Larry and was kind and generous in sharing
    with me some of his stories of time spent at the PAC. He even sent a photo of himself as a
    young man standing in front of the quonset hut under construction. That photo was a relic
    I never expected to encounter! He also sent a video of Larry from his later years working
    in community theater in Las Cruces. He’s sitting for an interview and proudly sharing
    about his latest production. At one point the interviewer asks, “How many shows have
    you directed?” Larry shoots back, “over three hundred, almost four hundred.”
    I felt like that one statement carried the missing piece of the puzzle. The guy had one
    more lesson for me from beyond the grave. Larry was indeed a talented enough guy to try
    most anything, he assuredly could have had some measure of success in Hollywood or
    Broadway. But Larry found something else in life. He loved to direct, and he found a
    strange little space on this planet that let him do that almost 400 times, an unprecedented
    body of work for a director, that and a group of people it was meaningful to. So he did
    what he loved in an environment of his own creation, for as long as it was available to
    him.
    I spoke with Ms. Jane by phone after seeing the obituary. She must have caught a bit of
    the extra emotion in my voice when I said I would have liked to thank him before he
    passed. “Don’t dwell on it Micah,” she said. “He thought the world of all you kids in the
    youth drama club.” I thanked her profusely for all of her hard work in theater and
    blessing so many with it. She replied, “Well, some people sing, some people cook, some
    people teach. I know theater; it’s the what I have to share with the world.”
  • Micah! look at this photo taken by Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation management Command, U.S.Army
    is this how the library looked back in the 80’s and 90’s when you were there?

    Micah: Haha! Wow, It is very close. I’m sure that was part of its progression! If my memory serves me correctly those vertical wooden sections weren’t there. Instead I recall they had bricks all the way down there those planters where and then a few concrete pillars.

    So cool to see it though. The only pictures I’ve seen are the ones from the 60’s and the current. Which, oddly enough are very similar. There aren’t many photos of when the front was bricked up. So glad to see this one though. I started to feel like I was imagining things in insisting that the front was bricked over before. Lol

    I’m guessing from the book return outside that it was already operating as the library at this point.
    So glad to have it! Those wooden beams look to be in bad repair. I bet they decided that was a bad idea for Korean monsoons and simply extended the brick work. That section of bricks you see, I think, had the metal letters “Yongsan Library” in the upper right when I was there.

  • Koreans with Tae Kwon Do skills, me with helmet hair. late 1980’s, Seoul
  • My brother hanging out with a Korean girl. She isn’t impressed. late 1980’s
  • I recall when we first got to Korea every parking lot would put out these little cars on the weekend to bring in some side income.
    My sister and I, two brothers in the background
    Note from Micah Granderson 1980’s Seoul
  • Likewise, my younger sister. and a Friend she met Off-post
  • Note from Micah Granderson
    Yes, that’s me
    I remember being quite the sensation off post. The local Korean’s weren’t always following every aspect of American pop culture. But they knew who Michael Jackson was and his zipper jacket.
    I felt like a mini celebrity just owning it.
  • This photo is of me in my high school years. I’m the one trying to look boss in the slightly tight black and red jacket. The same brother as in the Magic world lotte photos is to my left and two friends visiting from the States are standing to my right. They actually had this really cool juggling act that they did and I think this photo was taken as we were pausing at a highway rest stop, on our way to a Korean orphanage.
  • Note from Micah Granderson on 8th October 2017:
    These photos are from that same time frame 80’s through 90’s.
    They are of my brother, sister, and myself at Magic Island, the outdoor portion of Lotte World. I think that part of the park had only been open a few months when these photos were taken.
  • By Micah Granderson on 8th October 2017
    I was trying to reach out to Larry Chandler to interview him and found out that he passed away only a few months ago. I had really wanted to use the writing of this article as a chance to reach out to him and reconnect, tell him how much he meant to all of us. So it was quite a kick in the gut to realize this. There were a lot of remembrances and people sharing about him so that lifted my spirits a bit to be able to read those. I hope the article that I working on can be meaningful as well to those who knew him.
    Photo by Micah where Larry Chandler mugs with two brochures from a Youth Drama Club show in the 80’s
  • Yongsan and the Electric Mayhem
    By M. Granderson, 6th October 2017

    It was the mid-1980’s, and the madness all started in the northwest corner of the Townhouse
    on Main Post. The Townhouse was an unbranded cafeteria across from the Post Exchange and
    was a popular spot to grab chicken and mashed potatoes or just loiter and see who else
    wandered in. This particular corner of the building had a large room, hundreds of square feet.
    The facility managers decided to setup a game arcade and lined both sides of this narrow
    room with the large, upright video game cabinets and the new generation of pinball machines
    coming onto the market.
    To say the room was popular with the younger soldiers would be an understatement. They
    flocked there by the hundreds with fistfuls of quarters. The room was sizable, and the
    machines might have numbered over fifty. The problem was that the room was incredibly long,
    but quite narrow. With people standing on both sides of the room facing their respective
    machines along with a gaggle of friends standing behind to cheer them on, the center aisle to
    the back of the room was completely clogged. Looking for an empty game meant shouldering
    through the crowd and dodging ankles on the left and right.
    The overhead lights were a dim yellow with most of the illumination coming from the video
    game screens. Pinball machines, some capped with strobe lights, shot glittering beams all over
    the room. The noise was deafening. People hooted and yelled, early MIDI synth music
    screamed out of cabinet speakers, faux machine guns roared, and pinball machines popped
    and jingled. Above it all, rang out the consoles with early recorded audio technology. A voice
    artist yelling out in a cheeseball surfer inflection, “Power up DUUUuuuuuuude! You’re TOTALLY
    under attack!”.
    As if the overcrowding, spastic lighting, and sound weren’t enough, this was the eighties and
    every third person held a cigarette. Dozens of lit cigarettes trailed smoke upwards, filling the
    room with choking clouds of nicotine and converting the light into visible beams that shot out
    of the machines and around the necks and ears of the players.
    The scene was overwhelming to the senses: a glowing, throbbing, deafening, claustrophobic,
    seizure-inducing, choking, hellish, Dante’s disco inferno. All the same, to the seven-year-old
    boy I was, it was also magical.
    My parents weren’t at all ready to let their younger children slither into a packed room of
    cussing adults to waste some money and come back smelling like an ashtray. But where there
    is a will, there is a way. It was inevitable that in the Townhouse my father would suddenly run
    into an important person related to his job as a civil engineer. As soon as this person ambled
    over and said, “Say, Bill, I saw you over at the salad bar,” a special five-second window of
    opportunity opened up. I would interject, “Daddy, can I have two quarters for the game room?”
    and my father would rattle in his pocket for loose change. Suddenly, his children leaving the
    conversation and disappearing into Dante’s for twenty minutes seemed like an excellent idea.
    Those running the facility must have quickly discovered the golden ratio. That is, soldiers
    multiplied by game rooms equals a whole lot of gold. Soon, a number of smaller
    venues popped up all over the garrison.
    There was one occasion that I was waiting in a bus station when the video game maintenance
    technician, a middle-aged Korean gentleman, showed up to check the machines. He
    methodically worked his way from cabinet to cabinet. A couple of teenagers approached him
    to complain that a machine had just eaten five quarters. He waved them away to the service
    counter without a second glance. I was probably about eight at this time and followed him like
    a little shadow. He lifted the game fields of pinball machines to reveal their zoos of wires and
    solenoids underneath. A pair of electric voltage meter leads were clutched in his right hand as
    he manipulated them like chopsticks. Simultaneously, his left index finger traced down a paper
    schematic as he checked off the working components. He crouched down to unlock the coin
    door and check the cash validator mechanism. I crouched down too, a respectful distance
    away, to get a look inside. He moved down the rows of machines, noticing me occasionally
    from the corner of his eye. On the last machine, he slipped his pinky finger under the coin
    validator and jogged the mechanism that detects a falling coin. “Here, free game,” he smiled at
    me and strode out of the building. I stepped up for a complimentary round of “Jungle Lord”.
    We had formed a bond that bridged age and culture. A solid gesture of respect from one
    component electronics nerd to another.
    In later years, when I was a teenager, the Dragon Hill Lodge added a few games at an
    otherwise unused space under a stairwell. It wasn’t long before they also discovered the
    golden ratio and decided to dedicate an entire front shopping area to a new arcade, complete
    with plush carpets and brand-new game cabinets. I can’t really say with certainty how the
    money from the game machines was appropriated or if in fact the facility managers were in a
    certain amount of competition with each other, but it sure seemed that this new game center at
    the DHL was perceived as a direct threat by the facility operators that ran the previous game
    centers. Judging from what happened next, they took it as a shot across the bow intruding on
    their quarter-collecting operations.
    A certain madness set in. Suddenly, nine games were pulled out of an existing arcade to make
    way for a massive new machine about the size of a walk-in freezer that simulated ski jumps.
    The machines that lost their place weren’t carted off to storage; instead, they were jammed into
    hallways and every available corner. Whole new arcades sprung up like daises in May. The
    back wall that ran the length of a bowling alley became “the game arcade that ran the length of
    a bowling alley.”
    Ancient games that must have been sent to storage years ago were pulled out and made to
    earn a little retirement income. A green, vinyl sofa with cigarette burns that had sat respectably
    at the back entrance of the Moyer Rec Center for decades was abruptly thrown to the curb
    along with its matching side table. In its place, upright consoles of “Galaga” and “Ms. Pacman”
    appeared. The trend continued to the point that even chairs and tables next to snack stands
    were being pulled out to make room for more machines. Teenagers perched in the bucket
    seats of racing games to eat their nachos, for lack of an open table.
    The noise and den of Townhouse suddenly spread to every common space of the post, but
    soldiers and the younger crowd took to the game arcade “arms race” quite favorably. In fact,
    when walking across Yongsan, I walked in the front door of every public building along the way
    and then out the back, just to see who was hanging out at which arcade. Then, at the height of
    all this mayhem, I moved away from Korea and eventually off to college.
    Returning to visit a solid two decades later, I found an eerie quiet across the post. All the
    games had disappeared like they had never been there. No longer could I swing from one
    arcade to another like Tarzan reaching for his next vine. Home game consoles and
    depopulation of the post had apparently taken their toll, and now, only the silence was
    deafening.
    It may have been a slow decline, but as I stood there looking up and down the now empty and
    open hallways, it felt like such an abrupt change. Double Dragon, Cruisin’ USA, Skate or Die,
    Time Traveler, and Primal Rage? Gone, gone, gone, gone, and gone. It was as if every building
    decided, in a single moment, to stub out their Marlboros and take a vow of silence.

  • Note from M. Granderson
    I was at Yongsan from 8th grade until just a few months shy of graduation. We had a large family and lived a ways away from post in Mapo-gu. My mother decided to try homeschooling those years to avoid the commute. My brother and I, in particular, hung out a lot with the SAHS crowd. If we finished our school work early we could be on the post before the high school let out and our friends from there would come and join us at the PX, Moyer Rec and so on,

    I did actually attend SAES for 1st and 3rd grade on earlier stints in Seoul.

    The Performance Arts center very well be the most meaningful establishment place for me on the post. It was a really funky cool artsy place that ran against the grain of the military gist. There were a number of Koreans involved with the place. I don’t know precisely how they were involved with the post or the PAC. I was very young at the time and was involved more on the periphery with youth performances, assisting the stage manager for some of the larger plays and so on. There was an older Korean man, an MWR employee I think, who made a majority of the stage sets. He was incredibly talented and made whole forest scenes with all these massive floor to ceiling flats and so on. There was also a middle aged American guy that taught English way out on the edge of Seoul and commuted in two hours each way to be a part of that community theater. Wish I had more names. Still have a pile of old performance programs in storage back in the states that would help greatly if I could get my hands on them. I am working in Tokyo at the moment.

  • well played librarian, well played…….About Life and the Yongsan Library
    By M. Granderson
    Sept. 20, 2017
    The staff of the Yongsan Library babysat me for a small but significant portion of my childhood. I was barely well-mannered enough that they never caught on.
    Based on some historic photos I’ve seen, the library building was previously the Post Exchange. Apparently, those in charge decided that conversion into a library should include enclosing the front of the building with tall, concrete slats and slabs of brick for a more 1970’s institutional look, a facade
    that would have made the architect Le Corbusier proud. This left only smaller openings at either end of the structure for entry and cut off the front windows (the only windows) from daylight. Walking in from the sharp brightness and sweltering heat of a Korean summer left you stumbling through the dark and groping clumsily for the front interior door with only the comparatively dim fluorescent lights inside the building to guide you. Once inside, your eyes adjusted, and the air conditioning vents whistled from above. There was no sense of the passing of time in the Yongsan Library. Ten in the morning looked exactly like eight-thirty in the evening.
    The remodel into a library apparently didn’t include raising the interior ceiling or adding more lighting fixtures. While that study desks and common areas off the library were reasonably well-lit, the library shelving reached up very close to the low ceiling. The effect was such that only the spaces near the common area or directly under a fixture were illuminated, while the spaces between were increasingly dim, the further you ventured back into the forest of shelves. The non-fiction section started about halfway across the building, where the study desks were, and trailed off into the very back of the structure. The books were organized according to the Dewy Decimal system. As luck would have it, 000.00, the decimal number for books with modern and general subject matter, were near the well illuminated study desks and 999.99 (the darkest history) was at the very back. Indeed, it felt like you were leaving general society and heading back into an ancient catacomb, as you walked the narrow aisle into the incredibly dark and quiet back of the library, cut off from light and very insulated from sound with the density of thousands of books. So much so, that your ears would start to ring. Often upon entering the building, I would beeline straight for the back and thumb through a book of French tapestries, waiting for my sweaty t-shirt to dry.
    I wasn’t the only one to find that labyrinth of books convenient. On more than a few occasions, I stumbled onto a soldier and his girlfriend, cuddling somewhere back in the maze. Once, I ended up on the opposite side of the shelf from an arguing couple. The conversation suddenly escalated and the young serviceman broke up with the woman and stormed off. Suddenly, I was alone with a woman who was sitting a couple feet away from me and crying hysterically. I could make out her shoulders shaking with sobs between the top edges of the books on the shelf between us. I was probably only ten at the time and felt some warring compulsions that I ought to go do something, like go comfort her or steal away and allow some privacy. Unable to make up my young mind and being afraid that standing
    up would alert her, I just sat awkwardly on a metal footstool, hoping I looked like an inanimate object. The standoff finally ended when she got up and left a good while later.
    The library was a fixture of my existence through the majority of my childhood as we moved away from Yongsan and then returned, time and time again. Thinking back on it as an adult, I’m amazed at what an excellent library it was for its size and dim lighting. At age six, I wandered the shelves of Juvenile literature. Bill Pete, Peter Spier, and Graham Oakley were my favorite authors. I still hunt them out when taking my children to libraries, now, and mentally weigh the facility against the Yongsan Library in the process. As I grew up, older siblings grew tired of helping me find books and taught me the index system. Which for my purposes was that, for any topic I had in mind, all those books would be located together, grouped by subject somewhere back in the crypt, so all that was left was to thumb through the card catalog, scribble some likely indexes on a square of scrap paper with a pencil stub that was provided for the purpose. Then off I would dash into the catacomb of knowledge for hours of reading. Soon, every corner of the non-fiction section felt like a favorite old haunt. My young exploring mind had me parked in front of different shelves. “Making Fireworks: Principals and Practice,” “The Foundations of Screenwriting,” “The Private Pilots License,” “The Hindenburg: An Illustrated
    History,” “Pictorial History of the American Circus,” “Thiry-one Ultralight Aircraft You Can Build,” “The Handbook of Model Rocketry,” “Kodak: Building a Home Darkroom,” “How to Design Your Own Custom Robot,” “The Autobiography of Charles Chaplin,” “Stage Lighting” … I could draw you a map of where they were located, and yes, I was that nerdy. I’ve wondered why it actually was that the selection was so incredibly diverse and well-cultivated. One theory is that the Yongsan Library
    might have been the sponge for all the titles that were being moved out of the smaller decommissioned bases around Korea and Japan as the local governments grew and made the large number of bases become unnecessary.
    I’ve already alluded to the copious hours I spent there. The thing was, we had a large family and never had a residence on the post itself. Yongsan was known for having extremely limited housing. So, we lived nearby in an apartment complex. “Nearby” was a relative term in the teeming city of Seoul, Korea in the eighties and nineties. My mother needed to run the gauntlet into the post a couple times a week for errands and buying groceries. Rather than shepherd the whole family from the commissary, to the dentist office, to the bank, she worked out an installment plan. We all headed to the library where it was well air-conditioned, vastly educational, and horseplay ended at the point that somebody forgot to whisper. The library was a devilishly suitable location to this purpose. My mother would
    deposit all of us, except the one that needed dental work, and leave for a couple hours. Then she returned and traded that one for the two that needed shoes and headed out again. The freshly shod siblings returned, and the one that was best about not begging for specific brands of cereal was allowed to join her for a trip to the commissary. The net effect was if your teeth and wardrobe were in good shape, you might spend north of six hours a week in the library. In my mother’s defense, we were left in the care of a responsible elder sibling, though I don’t recall it ever being an issue. Maybe it was the quiet atmosphere, maybe a stern “this is the no-shenanigans zone” look from the librarian, or maybe we just sensed the library was a chance to scatter and take a break from being siblings for a few hours.
    This arrangement might sound like someone’s childhood nightmare, but actually, over the years, it was quite the reverse. We cozied up to the library and learned to use its every service in ways that concerned educators can only dream about.
    Our family left every evening with a pile of books that had to be divided up amongst a few family members to effectively carry it out to the car. Returning books was voluntary, if not in word, than in practice. The Yongsan Library always dutifully sent out a late notice exactly two weeks after the book was due, but then they seemed to promptly forget that it was ever missing. I never once recall getting a second late notice from that library or any mention of it when we went back to the counter for more.
    At some point, when we were literally tripping over volumes for lack of floor space, my father would announce that we were returning all the library books “TODAY”. We would pile a couple months’ worth of checkouts into the back of the van, then park next to the outdoor return box, just a little behind the bricks where our guilt couldn’t be seen from the front desk, and shovel books in like coal hands manning a steam engine.
    We made the mistake of thinking that all libraries were as easy going. When we moved to Fort Bliss for a year, all of us kids dashed out to the local public library and loaded up the car. Two months later, our dad found a bill for eighty dollars worth of late charges in the mail, along with some convenient phone numbers for local debt collection agencies, in case he decided to push his luck. All of his children abruptly found their book reading privileges abridged.
    There is hardly a corner of the Yongsan Library that I can’t describe. There was sitting in the periodical room dreaming of becoming a television producer while leafing through “Videomaker,” piling up stacks of vinyl in the audio room, the bathroom’s paper towel dispenser with “HARD TO GET – WHY USE TWO WHEN ONE WILL DO?” stenciled in black letters across the front (and many smart aleck responses scrawled below in pen), the jarringly loud “ker-chunk” sound of the mechanical card checkout machines, the overall smell of slightly decayed paper and government-issued floor cleaner throughout the building, and checking out every single VHS copy of a Charlie Chaplin film (and there were dozens of them) after my drama instructor said that “studying mime might be a good
    idea.”
    I had the chance to revisit the Yongsan Library on one occasion recently. As of 2017, it is still open and still in the same building. Someone decided the Le Corbusier facade was no longer necessary. It’s been demolished and the front restored to a similar look as it had from its Post Exchange days, the floors carpeted and the lighting more than ample. There were some new, very recent titles for computer instruction, a greatly expanded graphic novel section, and a suite of internet access stations, keeping up with the times. The shelves have been spaced much further apart, and I noted with some sadness that the collection had been drastically reduced to allow this. Subjects that went on for shelves are now reduced to one or two titles. When I was a teenager, I took a shine to magic tricks. There
    were rows of ancient volumes, recent publications, periodical compilations, translated copy of a turn of the century German magician’s book, describing every sort of illusion from cards to massive stage acts, now, just a sad, single copy of “The Blackstone Book of Magic.” It might be easy to blame the internet generation or, even more likely, that Yongsan itself is now a decommissioning post and its resources are being redirected to newer facilities. In the end, it is all just the march of time, and nothing gold stays. Like so many things in life, it was a wonderful place, run by great people, that came together for a space of time.
    As a kid, you can take a lot of things for granted. It just seemed Yongsan had a library because most any post, of reasonable size, had a library. Now, I reflect on what an artfully curated place it was and the impact it had on my childhood. The majority of the staff seemed to be local Korean employees, along with a few US civilians. I’m not sure which of them decided that the “history of magic” section ought to go on for five shelves or which it was that decided to order twenty VHS titles from Charlie Chaplin’s studio years. But I wish somehow that I could express how much I appreciated that place as a kid and share my sincerest thanks and gratitude. To whomever it was that decided to skip upgrading the lighting all those years and, instead, sink the annual budget into a wonderful collection of books,
    movies, and music … well played librarian, well played.
    • Micah! look at this photo taken by Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation management Command, U.S.Army
      is this how the library looked back in the 80’s and 90’s when you were there?

      Micah: Haha! Wow, It is very close. I’m sure that was part of its progression! If my memory serves me correctly those vertical wooden sections weren’t there. Instead I recall they had bricks all the way down there those planters where and then a few concrete pillars.

      So cool to see it though. The only pictures I’ve seen are the ones from the 60’s and the current. Which, oddly enough are very similar. There aren’t many photos of when the front was bricked up. So glad to see this one though. I started to feel like I was imagining things in insisting that the front was bricked over before. Lol

      I’m guessing from the book return outside that it was already operating as the library at this point.
      So glad to have it! Those wooden beams look to be in bad repair. I bet they decided that was a bad idea for Korean monsoons and simply extended the brick work. That section of bricks you see, I think, had the metal letters “Yongsan Library” in the upper right when I was there.

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