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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

 
Residual Love — and Resentment. Let me share an email I sent in August to someone I had a month earlier reconnected with, after more than 40 years. We met in a (gay) dance bar in Toronto. There was a seating area, and I found an empty spot alongside a cute little guy I hadn't seen before. The song "1-2-3" by Len Barry — which I loved — came on, and I wanted to dance. I was 1 guy who was 23. So (I found out later) was he. I didn't know anyone there, so I looked around, first to my left, and there was this cute little guy right there, so I asked him if he'd like to dance. He said no. I was a little startled, and maybe a little offended, but not much. If somebody doesn't want to dance with you, you ask somebody else (if you're an asker rather than a wait-to-be-asked-er; most of us have been both, but at least at that point, of that nite, I was the asker). I walked around, but did not find anyone else, because the guys inclined to dance had paired off and were already on the dance floor. So I decided to sit down again. There was no open seat but right back where I started, next to the guy who had refused to dance with me. I was adamant that that was not going to stop me from sitting.
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As soon as I sat down, he turned to me and apologized, saying that he had never danced with a man before, and he was shy and embarrassed. He did me the courtesy of telling me that, and I was no longer indignant, nor angry (the "How dare anyone refuse to dance with ME!" thing. We can be very arrogant in youth). We started to talk, comparing notes about where we were from (he: the Acadian (French-speaking) part of the Province of New Brunswick; I, from NYC (I don't know if I mentioned that I was really from NJ before I moved to NYC)) and that kind of thing. He was SO cute! I had thought he might be cute when I asked him to dance, from a quick sideways glance, but when, later, I looked into his pale blue eyes (I have medium-dark brown eyes, as had most of the people I knew), I knew that he was VERY cute. When another song came on that I wanted to dance to, I asked him again, and this time he said yes. We wrapped our arms around each other, during either that song or a later, slow song, and I knew there was something special about him, and about that encounter.
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I don't recall the specifics of how many days I was to be in Toronto (on that occasion) because I have been in Toronto on other occasions, and it was over 40 years ago. But at some point, we wanted to be together sexually, and he said he knew of an area of town that had cheap hotels, one of which we might check into. We found one, and did check in, without luggage. We got undressed and were happy to be together. There was a mirror on the dresser, and I tried to take a picture of us together, but it was dark, and I put the flash on, not realizing that we were so nearly head-on to the mirror that the flash as reflected would obliterate everything. This was The Olden Days when there were no digital cameras, and I didn't have a Polaroid with me, so we didn't know that our one foto together didn't turn out. I didn't find that out until I returned to NY and had the roll of film developed. (Remember film? How quaint!) We had, as I recall, a brass bed to share, and I love brass beds; did before, and especially did that nite. We spent a wonderful nite together, and felt after it that we didn't want to part.
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Geography was not with us. Nor was immigration law. I assuredly was not about to (try to) move to Canada, a both/and - neither/nor country for which I have now and had then no use. He was on his way to Vancouver, "British" Columbia (as stupid a name then as now) from Montreal, where he had lived for a while after leaving NB. But we didn't want to go our separate ways after only the one nite together. So we persuaded ourselves that the enthusiasm we had for each other after that short time together was love, or something so like it that it made no difference, and took each other's address and phone information to keep in touch.
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We actually did keep in touch. I don't know what he was feeling, but I felt I was in love. Maybe he felt that he loved me, or knew that he liked me, and contemplated living with me in golden Manhattan, center of multitudinous dreams, where I would be part of one of those dreams. I didn't know, and didn't ask. At first, I wouldn't have thought of anything but that he wanted to be with me. (I was adorable, did I mention?) Later, I wouldn't want to think that I was merely his means to achieve the end of living a Manhattan/USA dream.
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He put off his trip to western Canada, and remained in Toronto, so he could come down to see me. I remember him visiting me in Manhattan once. He says he visited more than once. What do I know? I didn't keep a diary, so can go only by what I remember. And I remember one disastrous visit.
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For some reason, I didn't have a regular mattress at the time, for having moved recently or something, so was sleeping on a makeshift pad of some devising. When you're 23 and don't have all the comforts of home but do have a place of your own, a mattress as such isn't the indispensable item it is when you're older. But Normand (that's his name, Normand, pronounced naurh.mónn, where RH represents the uvular (gargled) R of French and NN represents nasalization of whatever vowel comes before) had spent 10 hours or so on a bus to get to NY from Toronto, and insisted he needed a comfortable bed to recover in. My friend Paul R. (name withheld to protect the guilty) offered to let Normand stay with him 8 blocks up. That seemed a sensible solution to me, so Normand spent his first nite in NY at Paul's place. Only later did I discover that Paul, my friend, my buddy, my one-time sex partner, had made a move on Normand that Normand had accepted. So while I was sleeping alone, without my lover, my "lover" was playing around with my friend. I know that this is a very old story, but it wasn't for me at the time.
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The following nite, I had a party in my apartment for over a hundred friends, and friends of friends, and while I was trying to be the good host, Normand was playing around in my bathroom with several guys. His excuse later was that he had had very little sexual experience with men, and when so many offered themselves to him, he just couldn't resist. Had we been only friends, that would have been fine, and I'd have been glad that I had secured for him a number of guys to play around with. But he was NOT just my friend. He was supposed to be, I thought, my lover. And he shouldn't have been playing around with anyone but me. So we broke up. He went back to Toronto, then resumed his trip out west to Vancouver. I returned to thinking of myself as uninvolved, and resumed a life alone except for when I actually went out of my apartment to hunt for sex and find the men I could find, some of whom were very nice men, with whom, however, I never clicked as I did with Normand.
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On January 6th, 2009, out of the blue, I got an email from Normand to my MrGayPride email address (which is mainly for publications of the organization Homosexuals Intransigent!), asking "HOW DO GET IN TOUCH WITH LEE G SCHOONMAKER I MET MANY YEARS AGO", and giving his full name. I of course recognized him instantly, and emailed back to tell him he had found me.
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He was planning a visit back East to friends and, mainly, relatives, in Eastern Canada, and wondered if we might get together while he was in this general vicinity. After some back-and-forth and change of plans regarding whether he would come down to the NYC/Newark area or I would go up to Montreal, we agreed that since he had a lot of traveling to do from Montreal to the Province of New Brunswick and back to Montreal before he flew back to Vancouver, it would make best sense if I could meet him in Montreal. His sister, in whose apartment he would be staying for a couple of weeks, would herself be with relatives in NB during part of that time, so if I came up then, I could stay free at her place in Montreal, where Normand would also be staying (in a separate room). So we arranged that, I decided to drive to Montreal so I could see things along the way going and returning, and Normand and I would have a car with which to run hither and yon without waiting for public transportation, nor trying to figure out the best way to go, then waiting at each stage of a multi-leg trip.
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I arrived at his sister's place around 9pm on a Friday nite and left on Sunday a little before noon.
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We were both much changed, but recognizable. Over 40 years had altered us externally. How much of the us of 40 years earlier remained? I can speak only to what I felt, which is that Normand and I were not strangers. I felt at ease with him as we planned what to do on each of our two days together.
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Yes, we had communicated by email a number of times before meeting again, but I didn't react to seeing him as I might have to someone I had 'met' via email. I reacted to the Normand I remembered, from seeing and being with him in person, intimately, sexually, and emotionally. I remembered his body (then: slender; not slender now; same as mine, then and now). I remembered his voice. I remembered his sweetness and (relative) innocence. I felt older, but in fact he is about half a year older than I. That's pretty darned close for guys who meet in the unorganized, haphazard, everybody-together-in-the-same-bar situation we met in.
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We parted amicably this July, and I stopped in Saratoga Springs, NY, on my way home. I knew he was going to be traveling in eastern Canada for a couple of weeks after we had parted, so didn't attempt to contact him. (I have also traveled in his ancestral area, but years before.) Once I got an email from him that indicated that he had returned to Vancouver, I told him by email what I had felt on my return from Montreal. He has never replied, but it doesn't matter. Sometimes you need to express your feelings and not hold back because of concern that you might lose whatever you have in the way of a relationship. But Normand and I in 2009 had almost no relationship to lose. He was back on one side of the (North) American continent; I was on the other. We had no meaningful, ongoing relationship. It was time to be frank.
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If you read my email to Normand, below, consider what it arose from: that is, what I remembered 40 years later — and resented 40 years later. Human beings like to think that they are the only animal that benefits from the experience of earlier individuals of its species — that is, that learns from one generation to the next the mistakes not to make, the wisdom that one individual's experience can, by process of generalization, convey to others. Thus do I commend to you my words to Normand, below.
As I was driving home from Montreal, the old song "Still the Same" (1978) pushed into my consciousness — and not from the radio, because I wasn't listening to the radio most of the way (and there was only one station for over 100 miles, a religious broadcaster). The song "Still the Same" stayed in my head for HOURS. Once I got home, I looked for the lyrics on the Internet, and found not just the lyrics but also the original recording that I remembered. Its reference to gambling fitted very well, to my mind, into our two days together. Does anything from that song fit, to your mind?
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(By the way, this is, as you might realize from the scrollbar alongside this message, a long missive. If you don't have time to deal with a long email right now, please put off reading the rest till sometime more convenient.)
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You mentioned at one point that we sounded like an old married couple (squabbling, but not bitter nor viciously). I felt, as one only rarely does when meeting up again with people you haven't seen in decades, that we still had some kind of connection, however tenuous. You were not, it seemed to me, a stranger. So much had changed, but your eyes are still as pale-blue now as they ever were. People you have known for a long time but been nearby thru all that time are not the judge of whether you have changed. People who haven't seen you in a very long time are better at that, but then we get into the issue of distorted or lost memories. You and I have both assuredly changed greatly, outside. How much, however, have we changed inside?
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I felt that if we lived in the same city we might talk occasionally but might not be really close. (Did you ever go to see that friend in Montreal whom you found a little tedious?) After all, you did go off to Vancouver knowing my address in NYC but never tried to contact me there. I did NOT know your address in Vancouver, and I THOUGHT I had tried to look you up in the phone book during my couple of days in Vancouver in about 1990. You said you were listed, but then thought that maybe you weren't listed under your own name. In any case, I'm glad we got together this year.
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You have always been very special to me, and a disappointment to me, because I felt that I really loved you, and was disappointed when you played around with Paul R., something I did not expressly mention nor even make direct reference to in Montreal. (We won't talk about your behavior with other men in my bathroom during a party I had when you were visiting.) In that I had also slept with Paul (and I don't know if he's even still alive now; probably/possibly not, since he was much older than we were; and he and I ceased to be friends after that little incident, so I was never tempted to look him up), I knew what likely transpired between the two of you. Masturbatory sex with another guy is still infidelity, and tho I can be philosophical about it now, it stung at the time.
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In any case, pls listen to the song. You may not have anything like my reaction (it made me cry the first time I had something to drink[ ,] rum and cola once home, listening to it online). The premise isn't necessarily sad. You (Normand, not just some generic person) ARE still the same, in key regards. Maybe I am too. Indeed, I probably AM much the same. How, after all, is one to improve upon perfection? (Not serious.) Or imperfection. How, indeed, does anyone ever change or improve? And why, under what impetus, does one even try?
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(By the way, the main reason I did not stay near when you were speaking to the guy at the bar to whom you introduced me is that I could not hear any conversation at that distance, with music blasting. I have very great difficulty separating sounds, near from far, in-person vs. recorded. And I thought your friend probably spoke French and, as you know, I can only READ French, poorly. I certainly did not want to seem rude to him, or you, but it is hard enuf for me to converse in English in a unilingual noisy bar.)
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"Some things never change", as the song says. You found other men who wanted to be connected to you for months or years. I didn't. A few multiple, sexual repeats over the course of a few months, but nothing like a relationship.
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We were both cute, then, weren't we? I had crooked teeth, top-front, but we both had hair, then. We were adorable, separately, and were probably sickeningly adorable together, to other people. I'm very glad you had years of happiness with those other guys, and I'm very sad that one of them may die soon, much before his time, even tho you are no longer intimately connected. I'm sad for you, sad for him. I'm always sad when a good gay man dies.
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That's the only good thing about never having been involved in a long-term love relationship: you aren't traumatized to the point of barely surviving when someone dies. It's not much, but it does save terrible, terrible hurt.
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I'm very glad you said "keep in touch", whether you meant it or not. I know that I can be grating. One of my aunts (my (late) mother's (late) older sister — how do you indicate in French that someone you are referring to has died?), whom I never met but spoke with by phone a few times (unfortunately when I had been drinking, which is the only time I was inclined to call her) told me I came off as "abrasive", even tho I was talking to her in what I thought was a pleasant manner. Her son, Pete(r), my first cousin, is gay, and we met when I was in the San Francisco area (he lives in Marin County, north across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Fran). We met once, and he also apparently found me abrasive. Can't be helped. I am what I am. Some people will mesh with any personality; others will be alienated by the very same personality that others find [ ]intolerable.
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I have been drafting this message not in my email server (AOL) but in my word processor (WordPerfect) for fear of losing it if my connection to AOL should fail. When I went to store the draft before I was finished, I found that I had already opened a subdirectory ("folder") on my computer under the directory "Family & Friends" for "Normand ". I create subdirectories only when I expect to have a lot of things to store to it. But I certainly do not want to impose upon you an obligation to reply to emails you'd rather not get from me.
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No one really knows how he is either perceived or received by other people, because sometimes people are too polite to be blunt, and other times, people play games. Sometimes they are coy to people they do want to hear from. Other times, they lead on people they don't really want to hear from, to make them think they like them, just to gain their confidence, for whatever (nefarious) purpose. Sometimes an outsider can see no advantage to one person's leading another on, but what outsiders see is not the issue. A person can play games with other people's heads (that's a very 1960s-sounding phrase, but how else would one express the same concept?) for reasons that are not at all clear to other people. They may seem to have nothing to gain from it, but they do it anyway.
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I hesitated to push you to read this long message. But we're on opposite sides of a great continent, so what do I have to lose in offering to you info you may actually want to see? If you aren't interested in what I'm saying, that's fine. I have an audience for my thoughts in other forums, including two blogs, one political and one specific to Newark. [At that point, I was not updating this third blog, about gay issues. Now I am, but only occasionally.]
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I am involved in a very small group trying to organize a 50th-year reunion of my high-school graduating class (of 1962). Once we leave school, we tend to lose connections to people our own age, but are thrown into the chaos of general society. The problem with that is that we may lose the benefit of talking to people who are going thru the same thing we are, at the same time. We in the organizing 'committee' (not yet called that, however) of my impending high-school reunion want this reunion to be more thoughtful than prior reunions have been. They were dinner-dances, on one evening, with music so loud that it was hard or impossible to talk. We didn't communicate for any significant amount of time, about anything significant in our lives, even tho many of us were going thru exactly the same kinds of things at exactly the same time.
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You and I are within about six months in age. If there's something you are thinking about, a lot, that you can't talk to anyone you are now close to, maybe I can serve as sounding-board and adviser. I'm a pretty smart feller (that is an oblique reference to a 'confused' comedic reference to "fart smeller"), so you could do worse than confide in me thoughts about, for instance, an elderly parent, thoughts of one's own mortality, or a loss of physical or mental acuity (for instance, tonite I actually went thru a red lite — first time I ever noticed this particular problem — because I saw a green left-turn arrow as a green lite to go straight ahead. That could have been very serious, if not from the point of view of causing an accident, then in terms of getting an expensive traffic ticket; fortunately, no cop saw my mistake. But I did, and an indignant (black) female driver shouted at me for being "stupid". She was not out of line, tho I might prefer "insufficiently attentive and discerning". My reflexes are still very fast, and not just for my age (because I am ordinarily faster at a green lite than almost everybody else at the same lite). It's a brain-function thing, and I have been blessed/cursed with an unusually good brain and thus a high and fast brain response. But I wasn't, somehow, expecting a green left-arrow (even tho I had been at that same intersection a number of times), but only a green lite, indicating that it was alrite to go in any direction, and as soon as my mind took in the green lite, I stepped on the accelerator pedal. It could have been disastrous, and it never would have happened 20 years ago, or even 5 years ago.
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I had hoped to hear from you since I left Montreal, and did not know (or is it only "remember"?, if you told me) how long you would be in the East before returning home to Vancouver. I will not abuse the polite "keep in touch" clause in your latest email, but I did want to convey to you, tonite, some things that struck me as important. You might also like not just the "Still the Same" webpage but also some of the many songs linked to in the table at the bottom of that webpage.
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I have always known that part of me still loved you, and always been sad that your behavior and the attitudes of our respective governments kept us from forming a long-term relationship. Seeing you again confirmed that there is, from my point of view, something special about you, whether you feel the same about me or not. The ravages of time have made plain, if ever I was confused on this matter, that my feelings for you are emotional rather than physical. I don't know if every one of the men you had relationships of consequence with has told you that no matter what has happened, part of them will always love you. Maybe they have all made plain to you that that is the way they feel. Whether I am the only one or am just one of a group of ex-lovers who feel this, I want you to know, and always to be secure in this, that I really did love you, then, and still do love you, in a residual, fond, way now. I even dare think, in that you did finally contact me after these many years, that part of you will always love me too. You can correct that, if it is a misimpression. Truth trumps kindness, always. You contacted me for your own reasons, not necessarily including some kind of residual love. If it was only curiosity, I can deal with that. But it doesn't matter what you felt for me before you contacted me, and it doesn't matter what you felt when we were together in Montreal, or what you felt immediately after I left, or feel now. (A (black) woman friend of mine wondered to me in email how I could have stayed beyond my welcome if I was in Montreal for only two days. I didn't say that when you haven't seen someone in 40+ years, you dare not assume that three days wouldn't be too much.)
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You have always been special to me, before we reconnected, during our brief time together in Montreal, and after. I want you to feel free to feel special. Meeting you was very special to me. Connecting with you was very special. Sleeping with you was very special. It wasn't that it was my first time, because it WASN'T my first time. But it was special.
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When I looked into your eyes this year in Montreal, and heard your (silly) accent (really, now, you've had 40 years to lose your accent, but you have chosen to maintain it), everything came together. We were 23 years old again. Young, beautiful. And in love. Oh, yes, of course I knew, as you knew, that we lived hundreds of miles apart, and there was very little chance that we would spend the rest of our lives together. But you were so hot,so adorable, that it didn't matter. I wanted you, I got you, I adored you (a matter of sexual and affectional enthusiasm), I loved you, and when we kissed and hugged, I felt loved. It doesn't matter whether I was deluded, and you were just going thru the motions. I FELT that you loved me, and I felt honored and privileged. I would not, of course, have held back even if I didn't feel that. I held you, and hugged you, and kissed you -- and the rest -- because I felt it, and wanted you to feel it too. I feel lucky that we got together, all those years ago, even tho we couldn't manage, for all the obstacles, to stay together. And even if this email so embarrasses you because you don't know how to respond, especially if you never felt for me the intense emotions I did for you, I will never regret sending it to you. I don't want to sleep with you now, but I am very glad I did when we were young. Cheers.

Normand has not replied to my message, but I anticipated that that might happen. My words might nonetheless be of value to other people. There are things you forget, and things you never forget. Be kind to each other is always good advice, but there is a sharper message in warning people away from being unkind. Kindness and unkindness can both shape one's view of the world, so be careful how you deal each out. Sometimes you need to be hurtful to make a point that cannot be made any other way. That's the message of the 1979 song "Cruel to Be Kind". The other side of what happens when one is blunt is expressed in the 1968 song "Easy to be Hard" from the musical Hair, which is perhaps best known from the version recorded by the American band Three Dog Night. Normand thought about coming down from Montreal to the New York/Newark area while he was back East, knowing that a revival of Hair was running on Broadway. As it happened, however, he had so much traveling to do by bus to get to New Brunswick and back to Montreal that he begged off on venturing to my area, whereupon I offered to drive to Montreal, which I ended up doing.
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Far too often we edit or censor ourselves to avoid saying things that might embarrass others or ourselves. That can be considerate. Or it can be cowardly. It can spare other people's feelings, and save us embarrassment. But it can also leave so much unsaid that should be said that we end up concealing our feelings and not letting other people who might be important to us, know that they are important to us. Yes, sometimes it will embarrass another person to let him or her know that they are important to you. Other times it may be liberating, either in allowing them to express similar feelings or in letting them express feelings of their own about which they cannot know what reception they would find. There may well be some things that are better left unsaid. But how many they are, and which they might be, are two very difficult questions.
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You have to listen carefully, either to what someone else says, or avoids saying; or to your own heart, and what you need to say. If you HAVE listened, but haven't heard "No", and if what you need to say is more important than any embarrassment you might feel if you completely misunderstood someone else's behavior, then SAY IT. I did. Normand is 2,431 miles from me. He is not about to knock on my door to complain that I embarrassed him. What I said may not do him the slitest bit of good, but it has done me a world of good. Maybe you have someone you need to confront/tell something to. Do it. If you can't do it face-to-face, do it by mail, email, text message, voicemail, or suchever method that you get off your chest things that have been bothering you. If you record it in some permanent form, that allows you to review from time to time exactly what it is you said, so much the better.
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If you think my message above is a bit TOO direct, you should see the letter I sent my father to tell him I am gay. Hm. Now, where is that full text? I guess I should put that up on the Internet for young gay guys today to be able to point their own father to. It's a doozy.



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