History Can Be Ugly and Beautiful


Here’s a link to the James Woolsey Collection mentioned below:


Happy hunting!

The bookseller climbed the heights.

The bookseller stepped to the edge.

And then looked up.

The balance was calculated.

A terrible year. No relief for someone like that bookseller. No no-show paid job. No assistance from the government or union or group or organization.

Just the books.

Invisible borders had been set up. A free country no more. States where he would get books were closed. The bookseller could not go there or there or…

The bookseller looked up. Looked down.

He leaned forward, spread his arms and flew away.

And sailed down into the void.

The flight was brief.

Another COVID victim.


I’m on my way back from the Gaithersburg store. Clif is driving.

On the way down, we stopped for a house call. I mostly went along for the trip. I was hoping for something interesting. Maybe something for these stories.

I’m not getting out of Frederick much.

Most of us are not getting out.

I have mature friends I have not seen for months because of the dire winter warnings and the alluring promise of the vaccines.

Tuesday evening, I stopped at a grocery gas station I rarely get to. When my card didn’t work, I walked over to the kiosk. A former employee was the cashier in the glassed in box. At least, I think a former employee. This person stopped coming in last March because the grocery was giving up more hours and paying more due to COVID, I think. It was pleasant to see this worker. We exchanged smiles.

“I don’t have to wear a mask alone in here!”

She was gleeful.

My smile was masked.

“I got my shot!”


“Good for you!”

This person can’t be much more than 30.


The house call…

It was a nice tract house. One identical house after another.

Clif had dealt with the daughter. Her father was downsizing, moving.

“About 1200 books. A lot of political science.”

When we arrived, the father greeted us. We were led down the narrow thickly carpeted basement steps.

The books were piled on the floor. Many of the piles were chest high up against a wall. Modern and in great shape. Oddly, a lot of Dr. Seuss and other kids’ books. Grandkids, I presume.

Most of the spines were blocked by the wall or other books. I couldn’t see dismantling the precarious towers.

I asked what they were.

“Latin America. Middle East…”

I thought of the steps. The time. The loading and unloading. The fact that the walls at the warehouse will soon be bulging.

I have a set patter for common books. I use it to soften the news that the books are not going to bring much money from us.

“These are nice books. We see so many modern books. The labor of packing and transporting these is very expensive.”

I took a breath and wondered what number would come out of my mouth.

“I can offer 200 for these. I wish I could do better.”

(200?! That is too much. There is really nothing here we don’t already have too much of, I think.)

“Oh, no. I couldn’t do that. I’d rather donate them…”

(I sort of felt that the ellipsis meant that another offer might be expected. I didn’t state the doom that happens to many or most donated books. I didn’t mention I wasn’t sure just who would be accepting donations in the Plague. As far as I know, the library and church and school sales’ volunteers have not gotten back open.)

“Oh, I understand completely. Thank you!”

I beat a hasty retreat up the steps. Clif followed.

Out the door and into the van.

“WOW! I am so glad he didn’t accept the offer. I really didn’t want to spend the next couple hours packing and toting the boxes up those steps. Let’s get out of here before he changes his mind.”

I guess this house call story had a happy ending—for me, at least.

It has been a week of not getting enough accomplished bookwise, of being stymied by circumstance and nature and people and bad luck.

Going in last Saturday, I was planning on getting a LOT done. I’d missed two days and had another 2 days truncated by snowfalls. THAT is unusual.

On my way in, my wacky nephew confirmed he was coming in this morning. I’ve been sending him house calls out east in Annapolis to try to help him financially. He’d brought a load of decent books early in the week. I was stuck at home due to snow. I had someone at the warehouse write him a check for $800 on spec for about…1200 books. When I finally got in, I was pleased with the collection he gotten. There were some signed books and vintage mysteries.

(Vintage mysteries—almost always “cozy”—are hot online here now. Comfort reading, I think. I know…I’m doing it myself.)

He wanted more.

“It was a lot of work, Uncle Chuckie.”

He is a son of my oldest brother—now gone. He is only about 10 years younger than I am.

“800 for 1200 books is a lot. Much more, and we’d be looking at a dollar a book. A dollar for EVERY book. Even the bad ones.”

He is sweet and has a great outgoing disposition.

He went on another call in the middle of last week. He texted about 20 pictures. It was really annoying. It was about the same amount, only these looked much less desirable.

“If you were unhappy with 800, you might be really disappointed with these. Walk away. Tell them the cost of taking them away to Frederick outweighs their value.”

“Ok, Uncle Chuckie.”

On Thursday, he texted:

“Uncle Chuckie I got some great stuff at an auction last night. One is a signed John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. I think it was the last thing Kennedy signed before he was assassinated. Can I come tomorrow?”

“No!” I have to be firm with him. He is a blood relative, so I don’t need to be polite. LOL… “I’ve got a lot to do Friday. Maybe over the weekend.”

So, on Saturday, I headed to work. The folks across the street had done me a favor by rushing the repair of my broken ATV winch. But I was told I hadn’t brought the hook in.

“Ahhh… It is still attached to the plow where it broke off!”

So, I stopped at the bottom of my driveway and waded into the snows and unhooked the metal clasp. First thing I did was to drop it off. I REALLY wanted the ATV back. Without a plow, I’m at the mercy of…nature.

“Let me know when it is ready, and I’ll come over and get it and pay.”

Crossing back to the warehouse, I saw my nephew drive in.

‘Groan,’ I thought. ‘There goes an hour or so.’

He likes to chat and reminisce and ramble on. And on. And ON.

But I love him. In small doses. And I feel like I should help him out.

I let him in the front door. He was carrying a framed item atop a large flat cardboard box. I cleared off a table for him to set them on.

“Whoa, this is cool!” I exclaimed.

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“I looked it up. I think it goes for [low five figures].”

“I dunno. That seems high. They probably signed a lot of these for appointing federal judges. What else do you have?”

It was a box of several hundred loose engravings and prints. Most of them had been removed from books.

Nephew's Finds

He started pulling things out one at a time and explaining how great they were.

“I see these all the time. We have thousands taken from defective books.”

He didn’t hear me, I suppose, and kept pulling out one engraving after another.

“Stop!” I led him into the office and showed him a tub containing about a thousand similar things.

“How much do you want for the autographs?”

He mentioned a very high number. I countered. It was cool. But it was signed months before November 22, 1963.

We agreed on a price.

“Ok. Now you can tell me how much you paid.”

“I don’t wanna, Uncle Chuckie.”

“Go ahead. I hope you made a killing.”

He pulled a little bundle of auction receipt tickets from his pocket. “Framed item” cost him single digits. He’d made a thousand times his money.

I laughed. “Good going! That makes up for your disappointment on the last house call, I hope.”

He chatted and rambled and went on and on and ON. I finally told him I needed to get to work and ushered him out.

Then the repair place texted telling me my ATV was ready. I crossed the street and paid and drove it over to my parking lot. A friend had agreed to bring a trailer that day. I needed to get the machine to my house. It took awhile, but we got it loaded and strapped down. He followed me to my street. There was too much snow still to get a trailer up there. You couldn’t maneuver it around. So, we unstrapped the machine and backed off the trailer. My friend drove the ATV up to my house. I followed in my pickup and drove him back down. I am back in the snow removal business.

I finally got back to the warehouse and started to work on cartloads of books.

A young woman appeared before me. She wore a big puffy white jacket made out of the material that looked sort of like a lamb’s coat. My first impression was she looked like a marshmallow.

“We’re not open to the public. There’s a sign on the door.”

“I have some books I need to get rid of.”

“You can take them to the store.”

She looked a little crestfallen.

“I’ll come take a look.”

I led her across the building to the front door where she was parked. A friend of hers had been unloading small white trash bags onto the ground.

“You need to set them here by the door so they won’t get wet if it snows.”

I paid her cash from my wallet. I didn’t want to walk all the way back in and over to the offices to get a check.

It was now around 2. I finally got to work. I was in a definite “mood.”

In a couple hours, it was quitting time. I went out with a friend and had pizza and cocktails.

At least that part of the day was a success. The pizza was great. Crisp crust. 1/2 anchovy (me), 1/2 spinach (her.) The cocktails were serviceable. They “worked.”

At home, I looked at the weather forecast for Sunday. Snow starting at 5 am and continuing til noon.

‘I won’t get trapped this time,’ I thought. ‘I’ll get up early and beat the snow.’

I awoke at 5:30, and there was about 3 inches covering…everything. I stepped out and tested it. It was crunchy and not mushy. I felt safe kinda driving down. It was snowing heavily. Plowing might make things too slick. I dressed quickly and headed down.


That’s what you do with your breaks in this situation. I made it down alive—obviously.

When I got to the flat part of the lane I live on, I paused and breathed a sigh of relief. I could get to work!

It was still dark when I went in the warehouse. I settled in to uninterrupted book work. No one would come to work in a snowstorm.

(I was wrong. They did. But there were only two of them.)

There were some interesting finds. No home runs but quirky things.

History can be ugly.

History can be beautiful.

This House of Representatives publication was one of Sunday’s finds:

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A leather band at the base of the spine identifies it as Strom Thurmond‘s copy. Thurmond had a long and checkered career. He was the longest serving senator until Robert Byrd passed the record. Byrd also had a very checkered career. Thurmond died soon after retiring—at age 103.

There’s some ugly history in those two southern Dixiecrats. Byrd was in the KKK.

But the book is something else. Henry Morgenthau Jr. was another long tenured civil servant. His career was not checkered, however. It was exemplary. He served through FDR’s New Deal and World War 2. (I recall how much my mother wanted him to beat Nelson Rockefeller for the New York Governor position near the end of his life.)

Here’s an interesting anecdote that only history can tell:

He continued as Treasury secretary through the first few months of Harry Truman’s presidency, and from June 27, 1945 to July 3, 1945, following the resignation of Secretary of State Edward Stettinius Jr., was next in line to the presidency. Morgenthau was thus the first Jew to be in the presidential line of succession.

But the book in question above is one of hundreds of diaries kept by Morgenthau. This one tells you of his advocacy for rescuing European Jews.


Memorandum of January 16, 1944, meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. about rescuing Jews from Nazi-dominated Europe, with reference to the Armenian genocide.

The memo reads in part, “[Secretary] Morgenthau advised the President that he was deeply disturbed about the failure of the State Department to take any effective action to save the remaining Jews in Europe. He explained that the Treasury Department…had uncovered evidence indicating that not only were the people in the State Department inefficient in dealing with this problem, but that they were actually taking action to prevent the rescue of the Jews…the Secretary said he was convinced that effective action could be taken and referred to results that his father, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., had obtained when he was Ambassador to Turkey in getting the Armenians out of Turkey and saving their lives.”

History can be beautiful.

This monster also appeared on a cart:

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It is a binder put together by Jesse Helms. He is another Southern politician with a pretty checkered career. His cover letter complains that not enough vetting and debate went into the proclamation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday which was approved by acclamation by Congress. He includes copies of dirt dug up on MLK by the FBI (which is having some checkers going on recently itself.) Hundreds of pages of nastiness.

History can be ugly.

Then Annika put this aside for me:

Inscription to Welch

We believe it is inscribed to Joseph Nye Welch who was a US Army lawyer during the infamous Senator McCarthy show trials. Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy captivated the nation in his search for communists or onetime communist sympathizers in many, many facets of American life.

Show trials! LOL…

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

McCarthy was brutalizing a young lawyer who was an associate of Welch. He was going on and on about the “lad” and a club he was in college. Here is Welch’s interaction with the rogue senator:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?”

With that exchange, Welch slew the monster McCarthy.

History can be beautiful.

I can only hope there will be similar moments in our future. And soon.

On Thursday morning, I awoke to…snow. 4 inches of it covering the drive and woods. It stuck to branches and tree trunks. It was stunningly beautiful.

Plowing has lost its novelty this year. But I was glad the ATV was repaired and ready to go.

With the chains I had put on the tires, the machine worked equally well uphill as well as down.

The driveway was cleared in only 4 or 5 passes. But it started snowing again as I worked. I recalled the last time this happened the fresh snow created a dangerous glaze. I hurriedly changed into dry clothes and “taptaptaptaptap…” made my way down to the gravel where there is more traction. The snow on the lane was untrammeled. It was a beautiful passage through the winter woods—as if I was the only person in the world.

Later that day, I took a trip to the Frederick store. Books by the Foot needed subject culls for Designer Orders. I wanted to see our new “Autographed Books Section.” We’d sent over about 500 low-end autographed books from an old section that had sold as much as we thought it could via the Internet. I decided to see if there was an in-person market for any at $5.

I was disappointed they hadn’t set it up the way I had instructed. As something completely new, it had to be displayed prominently to introduce itself to anyone coming in. There was a nice table set up.

Autograph Table

But the bulk of it was relegated to the backside of a nearby bookcase. Invisible. I sent a few texts of complaints and urged the absent managers to redo it according to my “vision.”

One of the categories needed for Books by the Foot was Foreign Language books. Searching that section—which I rarely visit—I discovered the children’s foreign language books were in a different part of the store from the adult books.

Hmmmm… I wonder what the decision-making process for that was? I made few more texts.

When I was pulling in the adult language books, I ran into an incongruity. Between the Latin and German sections were four shelves of books in English. The first thing that caught my eye were Helen Keller books and a couple Oliver Sacks titles. Then I saw about 10 ASL textbooks.

Our section on hearing had been moved to foreign language?

I made a few inquiries. There had been a complaint. Having those books in the Health section was not appropriate for some in the community. ASL was a language. So, after some consultation with hearing-impaired parents of some employees, it was recommended that section be relocated. For some reason, foreign language was chosen.

I was not upset. I was dismayed. I spoke with the staff. I, as a customer, would never dream of looking for Helen Keller between Latin and German. They countered: “If they ask, we can take them there.”

I needed to tread lightly so as not to offend. But having worked in bookstores all my life, I know most customers will not ask for help. They would rather explore. The most intrepid explorer would, I would think, never venture to Latin for these books. Also, a lot (a LOT) of newer bookstore employees have little idea of where major categories are much less an exotic location like this.

“What about Braille?” I asked.


‘What can we do,’ I thought, ‘to be sensitive but also be a bookstore where book locations make some kind of sense?’

I brainstormed…

How about changing the health section so it wouldn’t appear to be pejorative to any?


Vision Health and History

Diabetes Health and History

… be acceptable?

ASL is English. If it needs to be removed from Health, how about putting it in Education—under the teaching of language? We have an ESL section.

We will see how it all shakes out.

I’m sure it won’t make everyone happy no matter what we do.

One of my longtime maxims is to stock books where the customers are most likely to look.

Over the years, it has been an ongoing battle with well-meaning clerks and managers.

Stock examples abound.

Years ago, I eliminated the Biography section. Why? It didn’t sell. Putting Clinton next to Cleopatra, Hemingway next to Hamilton, putting some obscure Civil War Corporal’s autobiography under his last name…the books did not sell. The random Bio section was not shopped.

So Clinton goes with Presidents (or Politics, depending.) Cleopatra is in Egypt (Ancient.) Hemingway bios are with his works in Lit. Hamilton in early American History. And anything Civil War goes in Civil War.

Pearl Buck remains pretty popular. I used to notice her books were spread all over the store. I brought her Bible and her education and kids’ books together with the other books by her. Pearl is one stop shopping here—I think.

The Elvis Cookbook…umm…Elvis.

Irish poetry? My thoughts are the audience is in Ireland (Yeats and Joyce…of course would go in Lit.) But a collection of Irish poems would just be lost in the sea of generic poetry books in that section.

My battles with well-meaning staff who want to be “creative” are memorable. I walked in one time, and there was a section of Civil War fiction in the middle of the fiction section. No Civil War buff would ever be likely to stumble up on it. Someone looking for The Killer Angels would be disappointed looking in Civil War and then in fiction under “S” for Schaara.

“We don’t hide books. Put them where they have the highest chance of being found. Put them where the newest staff person has a high chance of success leading a customer to the right section.

It is Friday.

I’m waiting outside the veterinarian’s office. No humans are allowed inside due to COVID. I got a phone call from the vet. They look great despite being 10 years old.

In fact, yesterday was their 10th birthday!

I’d forgotten. I blame it on COVID.

Time means nothing.

She said even though they are old enough, she didn’t think a geriatric baseline would be necessary this year.

Will these dogs outlive me? Maybe. Jack Russells often make it to over 20.

And… COVID… My vaccine is nowhere in sight. I’m behind the frontline health people, those 75 y/o + and now grocery workers and likely teachers and maybe students.

I don’t know who else will be bumped ahead.

Governor Hogan announced we have very limited supplies. 11,000 per day of Dose 1. 2 million are currently eligible. Using my fingers…that is just less than 200 days to get dose 1 to groups above.

Then me. Maybe.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan expressed his frustrations at the incoming supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses as many Marylanders have shared their frustrations with trying to secure a shot since becoming eligible.

Around 2 million residents are currently eligible for a vaccine under Maryland’s phased rollout, but Hogan said during a briefing Thursday that only around 11,000 doses are allocated to the state each day.

A bookselling friend out west emailed today he was down for 17 days with COVID.

“Do not get sick!”

It has been about a year since I last flew to the California ABAA Book Show. Right now, the Greenwich Village Book Show is taking place. I used to love to use that as an excuse to go to NYC. Now it is digital. I have no desire to visit a computer screen. I hope others do. For me, the appeal of a book show is the visual and serendipity, the discovery. Color. Touch. Feel.

I can see the future.

The Kafkaesque will continue. And there are signs it is getting worse.

Less privacy.

More manipulation by media of all kinds. Strings being pulled. Opinions guided.

And then one of the most potent powers of the press—the power to ignore important stories. Lots of that.

Nothing to see here.

I can see the future.

I’m not going anywhere soon.

My first dose—maybe May now?

I can see my future.

More of the same.

Cold days and nights. Highs in the 30s for the next week or more. “Precipitation” potential 5 times between today and next Friday.

Then spring.

Books Monday.








As if there hasn’t been enough intrigue in this story, we created an archive of books from James Woolsey: https://www.wonderbk.com/shop/collectors-corner/special-collections-author-archives/r-james-woolsey-jr-collection. His civic history is generally quite good.

It is interesting to touch lives like that through their books.

This collection was dropped off a couple years ago by a fellow who clears out law offices as a sideline. He mentioned these books were from the office a “big shot” he was assigned to clear.

We sat on them until the website had the (expensive to develop) Collector’s Corner feature.

Annika informed me that another “spook” translated Bambi! Her notes say that Whittaker Chambers did the deed.

Bambi Notes

Tomorrow, Saturday, I’ll be sure to get in early before the snow starts.

My weekend will be book cart after book cart after book cart with English Premier League soccer games serving as a backdrop.

What will I find?

Something thrilling, I hope.

I do need to get into more of the Safire books and a couple other author collections. Then there is the Ashburn hoard…The smell of mothballs should have dissipated by now. I recall lots of Beats, about 10 feet of Wodehouse in jacket and…other wonderful things.

I took a friend down to Leesburg for her birthday. We stopped at Costco for wine. (Maryland Costcos are dry.) We went to Lightfoots, where I have had some iconic meals and experiences over the last 22 years.

The 5’6″ Chinese warrior who guards the bathrooms was wearing a mask.

Masked Chinese Warrior

The gorgeous stone and marble former bank building still has the huge French posters. I think I like the Green Fairy (Absinthe) best.

The food and the staff are superb.


The bartender didn’t flinch when I ordered a Vesper*. So often I get a blank look if I request one. His only comment was: “Stirred or shaken?”

* Every James Bond fan knows this recipe as the first martini that Bond ordered in Ian Fleming’s 1953 book, Casino Royale (or the 2006 movie.) Named after the seductive double agent Vesper Lynd, it is possibly the most famous drink order in history and extremely precise.

It was a lovely civilized night. Like before the Plague. It was a risk. But life is full of risks.

I can’t hide at home or behind my mask every minute.

I do take a lot of vitamins and zinc and…

Fingers crossed I can hold out until I get my second dose this summer or fall and hope that protects me.

Oh! The amaryllises are blooming at home and the warehouse. One little thing to make February less bleak.


10 Comments on Article

  1. Andy Moursund commented on

    Chuck, FTR it was Robert Byrd of West Virginia who broke Thurmond’s record as longest serving senator, not Harry Byrd of Virginia. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, whose voice sounded much like FDR’s, also topped Thurmond’s record in 2012, but fell short of Robert Byrd’s. Harry Byrd’s 32 years don’t make the top 25. If Patrick Leahy of Vermont runs and wins in 2022, he’ll likely replace Robert Byrd at the top of the heap.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      OMG what a bonehead.
      I remember riding often on the Harry Byrd Highway
      I have some cool/weird Robert Byrd books/inscriptions
      And I recall Dan Inouye on the Watergate stuff
      Thanks for the correction

  2. Charlie Downs commented on

    I’m glad that there is someone else out there who likes anchovies on pizza. When bringing home pizza, I have to get cheese and add the anchovies myself. Chuck, sign up for the portal at Meritus in Hagerstown. Sometimes you can luck out and get an appointment for the COVID shot. You have to keep checking in on a regular basis. My wife was lucky enough to schedule an appointment on a Monday for that Friday less than two weeks ago. I’m a pharmacist there and that enabled me to get both shots early. They are open to anyone 65 or over.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Charlie!
      When I was a kid I would be horrified when my older brothers got anchovy pizza.
      BJs has a pretty one.
      I’ll look into it!
      Thanks for reading and writing!

  3. Gregory commented on

    Good post!

    Just one correction. ASL is not actually English. It is a completely separate language developed by deaf people in the U.S. Therefore, and this is mind-blowing, it is not comprehensible to deaf signers in Britain, who developed their own sign language.

    My guess is that if any customers are looking for books on sign language, they’ll go to the language section rather than health. That is where they’d be filed in an academic bookstore (in the days when such things carried books).

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Gregory!
      It is always a learning experience.
      I wonder where Helen Keller and Oliver Sacks feel they belong? LOL…
      I hope we find a good solution. There are only a dozen or so ASL books there…
      I appreciate your reading and taking the time to write.

  4. Nick Franklin commented on

    Hey Chuck!

    That was me who re-did the foreign language section a couple months before COVID. I don’t know why there were some English language books in the middle there, but I can shed light on ASL’s placement.

    The aisle was supposed to be all non-spoken-English (adult) language books from “most asked for” to “less asked for” as you go down it. That’s why it started with Spanish, then French, then the Latin, German, etc. Before, Russian would be way too soon in the aisle, and considering how much there was of it, other languages would get lost or accidentally mixed at the edges. Though I did keep the Asian languages near the end as they were before. ASL and Sign Language in general was pretty well asked for so I put it near the Latin and German closer to the beginning of the aisle.

    We figured that there are sign languages for other languages as well, so putting it in Foreign Language would work well. For what it’s worth, when we had 2 books of it, Braille was put there too. I thought I had made the sign say as much, but oversights occur. There were multiple weeks of discussions about that whole aisle. I had re-done the entire aisle that had languished for years, and there were many, many planning discussions about it with all levels of on-premises staff. Hadn’t thought of Helen though, that’s a good point!

    Hope that sheds some light on the situation there. I had to deal with a lot of oddly-sized books, quantity of books that juuuust went over into the next shelf, and got them in as best as was possible. I’m positive it isn’t as nice as it was when I left it, but it did have reasoning behind it!

    Also, I think I remember that Civil War Fiction section bit. Glad we got that back into Civil War, even if that section was bursting at the seams as-is. It belonged there, especially since the Glass Case books were right there next to it. That whole non-fiction “section” was another huge project that I had less to do with, but did help plan last year. All kinds of fun!

    Anyways, have a good one!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Nick!
      Some of that makes sense…
      But Helen Keller in Foreign Language?
      I hope there will be a solution that makes as many people happy as possible.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      1. Thomas Wixon replied on

        Do I remember you saying you had asthma? If so that puts you higher in the
        line for getting your shot.

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thanks Tommy.
          No asthma.
          They are just going by age (and some occupations) at this time.
          Thank you for your concern!

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