I’ve Heard from the FBI


Call me crazy, but, my bipolar diagnosis notwithstanding, I’ve long wanted a copy of my father’s FBI file.

For years, however, it seemed impossible, since my ability to access it required information that only my mother could provide—namely a copy of my father’s death certificate and social security number.

My mistake was assuming my mom wouldn’t give these to me and, therefore, never asking.  I was wrong.  She was willing.  I have filed the application.

I’ve known for some time that I couldn’t write a thoroughly accurate memoir—to the degree that “accurate” means comprehensive—without the information that file likely contains—namely the case the federal government had against my dad.  I’ve long wanted to know the means FBI agents used to monitor my father’s activity, the contents of wiretap transcripts, descriptions of the raids agents carried out at our home, and the evidence they uncovered during those visits.

Sure, I could simply have described what I remember, what my siblings recall, what I recorded in diaries and journals at the time, what local newspapers said about Daddy’s arrests, trials, and sentences.  However, it also seemed the picture would be incomplete without the federal government’s perspective, as well.

For, indeed, the FBI was a major player in my childhood—nearly another character in the story—especially with Daddy’s posting us kids at windows on the weekends, on guard against a raid.  Our job was to give my father even a few minutes advanced warning in the event that federal agents approached the house—enough time for Daddy to destroy evidence—which in later years involved flushing it down the toilet.  (My father wrote on a form of rice paper that dissolved in water.)

What’s equally important here is that my upbringing, not only lent new meaning to notions of childhood normal in America, but also confused the good-guy-bad-guy paradigm—–flipping the opposition, so that those most folks would consider heroes became the defacto enemy in our lives.  My father, the one labeled a “criminal” by the evil federal government, was the good guy we were cheering for.

Given this, I can’t tell you how strange it has felt to reach out to the federal government, filing a claim for information the Freedom of Information Act entitles me to.  It just felt weird—and almost wrong—borderline disloyal, a little scary, and, dare I say, crazy.

So when I received the following email from the feds—the scary music got cued in my head—and I was borderline freaked out.  It seemed so official—–so oh-god-Daddy-I-hope-you’re-okay-with-this—–so there’s-no-going-back-now.

The email read:

Dear Ms. McCullough,

The FBI has received your Freedom of Information Act/Privacy (FOI/PA) request and it will be forwarded to the Work Process Unit or a Single Station Disclosure Team for review. Your request will be processed under the provisions of FOI/PA and a response will be mailed to you at a later date.

Requests for fee waivers and expedited processing will be addressed once your request has been assigned an FOI/PA request number. You will receive written notification of the FBI’s decision.

Information regarding the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy is available at http://www.fbi.gov/ or http://www.fbi.gov/foia/. Upon receipt of an FOI/PA Request Number, you can check the status of your request online at: http://www.fbi.gov/foia/, and by clicking on the ‘Check Status of Your FOI/PA Request’ link under the (Records Available Now) section. If you require additional assistance please contact the Public Information Officer.

Thank you,

David P. Sobonya

Public Information Officer/Legal Admin. Specialist

Front Office

Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS)

FBI-Records Management Division

170 Marcel Drive, Winchester, VA 22602-4843

Direct: (540) 868-4286 

PIO Number: (540) 868-4593

Fax: (540) 868-4391/4997

God knows how long this will take.  However, the proverbial ball is rolling—-down-hill, gaining momentum.  I’ve smelled, if not tasted the forbidden (potentially de-filed) fruit, and I feel like I’ve already been exiled from Daddy’s garden.  This is where the Godfather becomes God, the Father.  And this is where I freak.

((Okay, maybe “freak” is too strong a word.  Maybe I should simply say that I feel “strange.”)

Is it weird to be weirded out by this?  Or am I crazier than previously thought possible?  (On second thought, don’t answer that last part.)

Note:  If you have not read the new version of my memoir’s first chapter, click here.  You won’t want to miss it! 

And please read, as well, my dear friend Tori’s (The Ramblings) precious post about meeting Sara and me at her Very Bloggy Wedding.  It’s one of the sweetest things I’ve ever read!  Plus, Tori is a brilliant writer, and I’m not exaggerating even a little.

96 thoughts on “I’ve Heard from the FBI

  1. I think it is exciting! It’s not weird. You don’t know what you will find in those files, so I can understand feeling a little freaked out, but at the same time, what knowledge you will gain.

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  2. I wasn’t prepared for how weird I felt getting my psychiatric medical records, so this has got to trump that weirdness by a mile. Keep working’ it, sister. Journal, make art, give those convoluted feelings a voice.

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    • Actually, I think the psychiatric records would be more overwhelming, since they are about you. At least these records don’t comment on me. Your records were potentially as close to the heart of you as one could get. But, yes, I’m doing those things. And it helps. Thanks for the encouragement, my dear!

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  3. Kathy,

    I can empathize from a psychological perspective, child and parent relationship. The confusion of who is good and or bad, your normal being turned about. I think it is great that you are following this path and as a writer you would wish to have all the facts.
    I do not believe this is to pass judgement on your Dad or the FBI, I think it is to shine the light on some part of your life that seems to be missing for you.

    Yes, is all of the scary, of course, projection is usually worst than the reality. You are supported by your partner and by your blog family as well.

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    • Okay, 2 things you say here are VERY true. First, one usually imagines things to be worst than they actually are. Second, I do feel supported. I have never, in fact, felt so supported in my life. Thanks for your kindness, Jeff. Your support means a lot to me.

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  4. I don’t think it’s weird at all. I’m pretty sure I’d be freaked too. It’s a little like opening Pandora’s Box. Who knows what will come flying out? But it’s also exciting in a “truth will set you free” kind of way.

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    • Yes, it’s the unknown that scares me. And though it has Pandora’s box potential for bad, it could also be incredibly liberating. I’m parying for the latter, of course. Thanks for weighing in, Robin.

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    • Yeah, I supporse my response is pretty normal, given the abnormality of the situation–if that makes any sense. Also, Tori, thanks again for the precious post you wrote about our meeting. It’s one of the loveliest things I’ve read in ages, and I am TRULY touched!

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  5. I can’t help thinking your dad might enjoy the fact that you have requested information that he probably never had access to, and maybe in the end you’ll uncover information that he didn’t know, some tidbit that he’d have liked to have known. Those times were a mess in Pittsburgh and if they charged him, they had a ton of others who should have been charged for far worse than running numbers. Maybe the file will provide some insight on a more general level than just details about your dad’s case. I’d probably be freaked out too, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that this brings a little peace in regard to being “exiled” from your dad’s “garden” 🙂

    As usual, fabulous story-telling in the most recent posts about your memoir!

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    • Great to hear from you today, Dana–you stealth blog-reader. It’s so nice to be reminded that you’re around. Interesting also to know that things were a “mess” in Pittsburgh at the time. You’re right, it would be fascinating to know how all of this might fit into a larger picture of the city at the time. Great point! And, actually, I know NOTHING about what was happening in our hometown back then. Thanks so much for mentioning that.

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  6. I think it would be perfectly normal to be weirded out wondering when that document is going to come and just what is going to be in it. After all you have pieced together what “you” think the truth to be and soon, hopefully, you will have what the FBI’s truth is and that will be yet another piece to your puzzle. The dichotomy of good Dad vs bad Dad has got to be so hard to reconcile. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

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    • Your comment made me think of something important–and that’s the fact that this will throw yet another perspective/angle on the whole story. It seems that my parents were two such disparate people–the gap between them enormous. And now I may have to find a way of reconciling yet another potential truth. It kind of makes my head spin a bit–and maybe that’s why. I don’t know exactly what you said that made me realize this, but thank you. This was extremely helpful, my friend!

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  7. Hang in there. You’re not that little girl any more. It’s so easy to go back to those places in our childhood relationship dynamics but our capacity to understand information and perspective are different. “The man” was probably over the top and your Daddy was probably doing what he needed to do (and maybe even enjoyed doing) – and visa versa. You’re just stuck in the middle trying to put the pieces together. Not weird, definitely freaky.

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    • Love your comment–especially the “freaky”-“not weird” part. That is so damn true! And thanks for the reminder that I’m an adult. Also, I think you are very right that my dad liked what he did. In fact, I think he may have loved it. I think he was quite content with things they way they were–even delighted by them. He certainly didn’t seem unhappy. Excellent poit! Thank you!

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  8. When I read the title of this post, “I’ve heard from the FBI,” the first thing I thought was, well … that’s not a sentence just anyone utters.

    I don’t think you’re wrong to feel a little freaked out. I’m a little freaked out just reading it … and there’s that whole “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it …” thing to deal with.

    Sometimes we want to know until we know .. and then we might wish we hadn’t ever asked.

    Hugs
    MJ

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  9. I think part of you may be grappling with the notion that on one hand, you loved your dad, while on the other he was a criminal. Knowing and having written proof before you are two very different beasts. Is it possible some part of you feels that you’ve betrayed your dad by doing this? If so, and I know this is easier said than done, you shouldn’t feel that you are betraying him. You’re simply completing a picture. Nothing you get from the FBI will change the way you feel about your dad in your heart. He was still a kind and generous man who adored you. Nothing will ever change that. Keep on fighting the good fight, Sista.

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    • Damn–another great point. Nothing I discover will change who he was as a father. That wil remain constant. Actually, Sista, that is a huge comfort. Thank you for pointing it out. Gosh, your comment makes me feel like I can take a deep breath and relax. Thanks for that, my friend. Hope you’re feeling better today!

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  10. It should be quite interesting to see what they have on file…reviewing the transcripts may bring back additional memories for you…can wait to find out more of the story.

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  11. You’re not crazy, just doing meticulous research for your memoir. Research can be tedious; this little tidbit will be anything but.
    I can’t imagine the position you were put in – with your father representing both sides of good and evil – it’s unimaginable. However I agree with Miranda that no matter what you discover, he will still remain close to your heart.

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    • And it’s sad to think that I didn’t understand that potential confusion as a child. I felt confused but wasn’t even sure why. I feel kind of sorry for the kid I was in that regard. Thanks for the empathy, Deanna.

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  12. I think the scary part of this is that you have a pretty solid sense of your Daddy. At least, that’s how it seems to me from reading your writing. You have vivid pictures of who he was, of what motivated him, of how he treated the people in his life.

    His FBI file stands to reveal very different sides of him, parts of him you never saw – maybe because you didn’t want to, maybe because he didn’t want you to – and that would scare me senseless. This is less about betraying your father and more about betraying yourself and your memories of him.

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    • I have to think about this. I hope it doesn’t betray my memories. I think that’s the good thing about being an adult. Now it’s a lot easier to hold two disparate images in my hands and be able to reconcile the differences between the two. That would have been impossible as a kid. That’s important to remember. Thanks so much for reading!

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  13. I think what you are feeling is completely normal. Fearful of what new information you’ll find, excited for another tangiable connection to your father…and so much more. Like you said, the ball is rolling and gaining momentum. There’s nothing you can do about it now, so just enjoy the ride!

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    • Excellent point. Nothing I can do about it now. Might as well enjoy the ride. The work now is for the FBI to do. I can just sit back and wait–enjoying the ride! Great to hear from you today, Tara!

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  14. I can’t really put myself in your shoes on this one, but I can imagine that it’s a blend of uneasy trepidation with a dash of heebie-jeebies. It’s fabulous that you’ve taken this step, and no telling how long the process will take, but there’s no stopping now. I imagine the real freaking out will happen when an envelope arrives in the mail (when, and if, that day ever comes). Holding that envelope will be a bit like lifting the lid on a long-buried secret, and even though you have an idea of what will be inside, it will also be a bit like standing next to a peeping Tom while he peers through the window of your childhood. Ughghgh. Yep, kinda creepy. Seeing your memories in sterile FBI verbiage across a sheet of white paper, completely devoid of the spirit of the man you knew as dad. Nothing but a bunch of sterile observations. Weird. Yep. But I still say Good For You that you’ve taken this step. Good For You!

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    • Oh, goodness, you’re right about this. It will be weird to hold the document in my hand. Yikes! And interestingly, I hadn’t even thought about it feeling sterile, but I suppose it will. Glad you think it’s good I’ve taken this step. We’ll see what happens. Thanks for your support, my friend!

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  15. I’m thinking that THIS has a place in the memoir as well! There’s SO much in this process that ties together elements of your childhood, your life experience, the turned-on-its-head notion of “good-guys” and “bad-guys,” the completing of the picture, the key to dad’s garden, the assumptions about your mom, the emotional reaction to the process… This has a place in the story as well, yes? 🙂

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  16. I bet you are filled with anticipation to get the information. If I may ask, why did you feel your mother would never give you the necessary information? How was her relationship with you dad and with you? It all sounds so complicated. I am very intrigued!

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    • My mother is not completely comfortable with me writing about the past in a public way. She does not want me to write about her, for instance, so I was afraid she would realize that writing about my father would inevitably mean writing about her. I was afraid she would refuse on those grounds. I don’t think she’s any more comfortable now, but I appreciate her giving me what I needed.

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  17. If you weren’t feeling crazy about this, I’d say you were crazy. This sounds like potential heart attack inducing information. I hope Sara and the critters are all very near when you get your mitts on this file. Reading this post made me feel very “holy crap, this is getting more real.” No kidding, cue the scary music:

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    • Ha! Isn’t that the perfect music? That is exactly what’s soundtracking in my head. Love also what you say about worrying more about my sanity if I did not feel the craziness of this situation. Good point! Hope you have a wonderful weekend, dear V.

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  18. I think, if anything, this makes it real and will lead credence to your memoir – not that you need it as your memory seems excellent and you already have the ability to hook us with your words of recollection – but this definitely legitimizes things. Can’t wait to find out what information they send you, Kathy!

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    • Yes, so true. I do have newspaper articles to document these things, but the FBI file will likely be much better–more comprehensive, I would think. Great to hear from you, Mark! Thanks for reading!

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  19. Kathy, this is so exciting. I can’t wait for you to get the file and share with us. You had such a fascinating childhood. Even the fact that you had to stand guard at the window. That’s not something most of us ever have to do, so it’s so interesting this glimpse you’re giving us as the life of a Mobster Child (hey, what do you think of that for a title?) Can’t wait for the next installment!

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    • Interesting title idea, Monica–though that may make me sound like an ex-gang member–LOL! And, goodness, yes, it was an unusual and fascinating way to grow up. And what’s really weird is the fact that I didn’t begin to fully appreciate that until I wrote this memoir. Now the weirdness of it is becoming more and more real. At any rate, thanks so much for reading. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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  20. I really love your original title idea. Enjoying reading the revised chapter one. Can’t wait for you to learn more about the file, very exciting! (and a bit scary too, I can imagine!)

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  21. This is really interesting and you’re certainly NOT crazy! 🙂 (Funny, but I live 45 minutes from where the email was sent. There’s a really cool drafthouse theater in Winchester that we frequent.) I hope you find everything that you’re looking for in the documents that you receive. Like I’ve said before, I can’t wait to read your memoir! Have a nice weekend!

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    • How funny to hear that you live nearby–and it’s good to know don’t think I’m crazy. Thank God. So glad you still want to read my memoir. Thanks so much for reading. Great to hear from you today.

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  22. Kathy, your post is a great lesson about not assuming what we believe may happen. Sometimes you just have to summon your courage and ask.
    LOVED Tori’s post. You and Sara looked like you had a great time at her wedding.

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  23. Hi. No, I do not think it’s unusual to be feeling strange at all. In my opinion, dealing with childhood stuff brings up all sorts of interesting emotion…. I can definitely understand if something within you is being triggered for taking a stand and asking for what you want. I want to say kudos for keeping with this process.

    Sending Love,
    Currie

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    • Great to hear from you today, Currie. Glad you don’t think it’s crazy to be weirded out by this. I so appreciate your ongoing support, my friend. You are dear, Currie! Happy Memorial day and love to you, as well!

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  24. This is so cool, Kathy! Congratulations a hundred times for having the courage to do this. And great that your mom agreed to give you the pertinent information. I think many of us would be feeling a little nervous. It’s kind of like opening a FBI Pandora’s Box, perhaps… Will read Tori’s post now.

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    • It is like opening Pandora’s box. We’ll just have to see what the box contains. And I’m so happy to see you checked out Tori’s post. Her wedding was a wonderful expeience, and she is precious–as is her family. Happy Memorial Day, my friend.

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  25. Congrats for getting the ball rolling! I can see how anything to do with the FBI would be a little creepy. I’m sure this is a good thing for you though. Hope it doesn’t take too long.

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  26. Hi Kathy !
    This is amazing ! I know it must be nerve racking but it must be exciting to finally get the other side of the story – I don’t think your Dad would be disappointed , as someone else commented he would probably like to have a look himself 🙂 – I know I would be curious. Cant wait for the next update , have a great week
    Xx Kel

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    • I’ve gotten more comfortable with the notion of this over the weekend. However, I may freak out again when the stuff arrives in the mail. But, God knows, how long that will take. Great to hear from you today, Kel! Happy Monday–though, I suppose it’s already Tuesday in your part of the world.

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  27. I can only imagine how it must have felt to read their response–all the formality and legalese. Probably similar to the sheriff’s visit with my first summons for jury duty! I think you need to know the “rest of the story” for your memoir. What an interesting childhood that must have been!

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    • Yes, it was interesting, for sure. I would imagine it might be similar to a first encounter with jury duty. I’ve never done it myself, but I think that’s a decent comparison, but maybe a little more so. Thank you so much for reading. It was great to hear from you today. Hope to see you again soon.

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  28. This is too cool, Kathy. (Well, cool but also nerve-wracking and weird!) I’m sure the information won’t be as terrifying as you imagine it will be. It reminds me of reading Jane Fonda’s memoirs and her comment that the FBI file on her seemed sort of dry and dull (at least in comparison to what she was expecting.) Lots of mundane details, probably, but the information will definitely add an interesting perspective on your already-electric memoirs!

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    • Actually, for me, mundane details could be good, as it will help me fill in gaps. I hope you’re right that there won’t be much incriminating information there. I hadn’t heard the Jane Fonda story–didn’t know that she actually had gotten a copy of her file. That must have been interesting.

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      • Yes, it was during the Vietnam War that the FBI was following her. I saw her speak when I still lived in Calgary and was compelled to read her autobiography after that. I had only known her as a workout guru before then, but it turns out she was/is so much more!

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  29. I don’t think it’s strange that you feel a little weirded-out by all of this. You’ve lived your entire life knowing only what you can remember and understanding things only from a child’s perspective. I’d be apprehensive about learning the true facts as well!

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    • Exactly, Terri. My thinking about all of this is still the thinking of a child, since my dad died when I was so young. I almost feel like this part of me is frozen in time. Weird. Great to hear from you, Terri.

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  30. Kathy, I think that this is the Universe kind of telling you that everything is going to fall beautifully into place from now on. I’m thinking your Dad, wherever he is, would want you to share the truth.

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  31. Good for you for having the courage to take this step Kathy! (I figure, in a psychological sense, there are multiple layers of betrayal involved … of dad, yourself, family) And congrats on getting the ball rolling. 🙂 I hope that they don’t redact too much of the file. I’ll hold some happy thoughts that you get the whole file, and quickly! *hugs*

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    • Yeah, D, I’m a bit concerned about redaction. But I appreciate the positive energy you’re sending my way–the wishes that I get the stuff soon! Great to hear from you today. Hugs————-

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  32. Well, I think it all sounds a little official and scary, myself. What an incredible experience! Learning things here may be tough. It will likely make things seem so much more real. But you can handle it. I hope you get the help you’re looking for.

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