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Unable to keep pace with change, salarymen over 50 'destroying their companies'

60 Comments

“Salary thieves!” “Incompetents!”

The old are intolerable. They slow things down, screw things up, deck themselves in impressive titles, draw bloated salaries – and for what? For keeping everybody else – the energetic, quick-witted, well-adapted, competent, idea-generating young – down?

So it seems, says Spa! (Sept 20-27) in an outspoken piece whose title pulls no punches: “People in their 50s are destroying the company.”

Polling 200 company employees in their 30s and 40s, Spa! finds 114 of them – 67% – replying affirmatively to the question, “Are there people in their 50s in your company who qualify as useless baggage?” That’s a high but not overpowering proportion. More striking is the anger and seething frustration they vent as they speak. Here’s a random selection of comments:

“They (older workers) have no IT skills, and zero desire to learn. They have junk for brains.”

“They think they know their jobs. If you point out a mistake they snarl at you.”

“They’re so busy thinking about their ‘second lives’ (i.e. post-retirement) that they have no time left for this life.”

“They stick us (younger workers) with all the unpleasant jobs.”

Yes, it’s galling to find yourself accountable to bosses who know less than you do, titled executives who gloat over past success without realizing how far they’ve fallen behind, high-salaried drones who don’t seem to reflect what they’re costing the company, and how little they contribute to it.

The roots of the pay imbalance go back to the bubble days of the 1980s, Spa! explains. In that vibrant economy, now a dim memory, promotions and pay raises came automatically with seniority. That’s the system older workers started out under. Some of them still work under it. The gradual switch to merit pay, still underway, began in the 1990s. Length of service is no longer enough; it’s quality of service that matters. Older employees who still coast along on the old system may not be aware of the widening gap between themselves and their subordinates, who really have to work for a living and who often feel that even their best efforts are not duly rewarded.

There’s truth in all this, but it’s not the whole story. “Akio Takeda” (a pseudonym) is 56, has an executive position with a clothing manufacturer and a salary (10 million yen a year) that employees 20 years younger may well envy – they doubt they’ll ever earn as much.

Would they envy him otherwise, though?

Certainly he came of age in better times. “The economy was strong, bonuses flowed in three times a year, and the third one would be worth a million yen,” he recalls wistfully. I took the test for department-head rank, and became my company’s youngest department head ever.”

Then came misfortune. The bubble burst, the firm downsized. He and numerous others were farmed out to subsidiaries, their wings clipped. “Before,” he says, “I was earning 15 million. Now I earn 10 million. Before I had 200 subordinates. Now I have 10.”

Does he dump his own routine chores on underlings? He admits he does. The overall picture is, “Work no longer interests me. I have no hopes, no dreams.”

Well, maybe one dream. “Maybe when I retire I’ll use my severance pay to start a business.” However, “It’s all pretty vague.”

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

60 Comments
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The wife talks about this constantly and how they slow the whole system of her office down.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

The way the Japanese work...their biggest strength and weakness in my opinion. The strength is in their togetherness and organization. How you can count on everyone there to do their job. I'm always amazed going into a convenience store at 3am and the employee is there polishing an immaculate counter. However the way that the superiors completely stifle anything by youth basically amounts to smothering. Youth are expected to grovel and pine and earn their way. This really has more to do with ancient customs than modern logic and has a lot to do with this generations disillusionment.

14 ( +15 / -1 )

If anyone has to ask, it's not just business but the government as well. Too many chiefs and not enough worker bees.

Sadly in some companies these young hard charging energetic workers will turn into to the very thing they loathe.

Here's to hoping that these younger folks find their own ways. Quit these businesses, if you have the knowledge, quit complaining and DO something about it. If you are smart enough to make these informed complaints than start your own company.

5 ( +10 / -5 )

Then came misfortune. The bubble burst, the firm downsized. He and numerous others were farmed out to subsidiaries, their wings clipped. “Before,” he says, “I was earning 15 million. Now I earn 10 million. Before I had 200 subordinates. Now I have 10.” ... Does he dump his own routine chores on underlings? He admits he does. The overall picture is, “Work no longer interests me. I have no hopes, no dreams.”

How completely pathetic that Spa! thinks this useless putz is the case for humanizing the older workers. Fire his lazy ass and get someone who gives a damn about their fantastic salary in charge.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

10 million is not very much. I do much better than that. Life must be difficult at 10 million only.

-34 ( +5 / -39 )

“Before,” he says, “I was earning 15 million. Now I earn 10 million. Before I had 200 subordinates. Now I have 10.”

I would sell body parts for a salary like that.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

10 million is not very much. I do much better than that. Life must be difficult at 10 million only.

Hah, usually it's guys having a pissing contest.

Bragging about your salary is never a good idea, there is always someone who makes more than you. (Hint: me)

-4 ( +11 / -15 )

Perhaps the headline is the wrong way round. It is the companies that have destroyed the salarymen.

One of the big mistakes in Japan is the way mistakes are punished. As a result everyone is afraid to amek a mistake and consequently afraid to take a chance, to try something new, something different. Don't blame the older salarymenj, blame the system that made them the way they are.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

Generation battles will always persist.

They stick us (younger workers) with all the unpleasant jobs.

Well maybe we should promote you to CEO, princess.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

10 million and complaining?????? Please ohhh please hire me I will do his job even for half the salary. Gah!!!! some people are lucky!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Maybe they should survey the 50+ people about the know-it-all younger generation. The responses will probably be equally unflattering.

10 ( +14 / -4 )

New form of age discrimination? Last year, Yutori Generation (1987 born or younger) was the target of discrimination.

Magazines always create something to blame.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Decades ago a friend got a job straight out of school and quit within a few months because he had to, "Do all the boring unpleasant jobs." I guess he thought his degree would entitle him to the CEO position first. After all, every new employee starts out at the top and works their way down.

On the other hand, I hate it when I propose a new process and am told "No" because the old way is The Way. I'm never given an explanation as to why my proposal is bad or inefficient. Just: "That's not the way we do it here."

And I'm really really tired of hiring everyone (not just bucho and above) literally say, "It's not my responsibility."

8 ( +9 / -1 )

at my old dog company the problem is that the old dudes are too expensive to fire. it would probably require 3-5 years severance and the company gets nothing, so let's them coast on 5-6 years to retirement. also, the old dogs stick together like a pack of thieves, they will never hurt themselves,,, and so it goes.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I have received loads of bad advice on how someone should "run a company." Among the worst was that managing a company is like fighting a war. Same person believes that you can evaluate a company best by the number of employees it has. Same person, faced with the choice of investing in Sanrio or Fujitsu about 15 years ago chose Fujitsu.

All of that came from an old guy. It is not just old ideas. It is not even outmoded thought processes of the older generation. It is the fumbling, bumbling, frightened uncertainty that drives them to do dumb things and make bad choices. And the same people who fight over who has the higher salary are similarly deluded and are likely to remain so. There is problem number one.

Salary. It is all part of the ouroboros that people choose to live in. People measure their worth by how much they are exploiting or exploited. I submit that this article shows both sides. These old workers are exploiting younger workers to compensate themselves for the way they were exploited. I think it is sick that they all know what they are doing. And then people brag about it in the comments. Not much mention of human dignity or pride in one's work. There is problem number two.

So much time and effort is being wasted keeping this model alive. Truth be told, if people really stepped back to look at the system objectively, they would see that "the welfare state" extends far up the corporate ladder. Jobs on life support go all the way up to the CEO's office in many corporations. Any company that is not working for human progress is just handing out money so that people can consume in greater or lesser shares. The rise of NPOs really highlights the trend. Governments are perfectly happy to ignore HOW funds are used, as long as they can tax the workers and keep the ball rolling. NPOs employ overeducated minions who are content to produce less and earn less and pay higher taxes. This is problem number three.

So to bring it all down to a summary, the zombie organizations in the article and throughout real life are set up to warehouse wrongly motivated bosses and wrongly motivated employees. Everyone maintains the illusion that something is actually being done, and it all gets taxed or taken eventually. The system works, and nobody has to go home at night and think of their pointless jobs as glorified welfare.

The alternative is to get busy living. But how few people do that.

4 ( +10 / -6 )

Japan is full of first and second class workers. I guess its always been that way, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that the good conditions given to the decreasing number of elite seishain are being supported by people working on much poorer conditions, such as full time on part-time contracts with none of the benefits and most probably none of the future prospects given to the elite seishain. Many elite seishain are old and a good number of them are not suffiiciently productive for any other company to employ them on the conditions they currently enjoy.

Some people claim all of the stability in Japan comes from homogenity, the supposed racial purity, but I think a lot of it comes from equality. As Japan becomes less equal, society will become nastier. More drugs, more crime, more depression and self-harm, more folks flipping out and doing crazy things. This situation is bad for individual companies but its also bad for society as a whole.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

It's symptomatic of an entrenched feudal mentality that refuses to die - the problem didn't begin in the 1980's, it began in the 1280's. The job rotation system followed at most Japanese companies is part of the same feudal mindset - we don't want anyone becoming too knowledgeable about a certain area for fear they'll become too powerful and challenge the existing order, or turn traitor and leave the company. Instead, we`ll create a top-down structure to keep employess subservient and discourage commitment to learning more than the basics of any job by transferring 20-30% of the employees every March to a task they're completely unfamiliar with, simultaneously transferring the person best qualified to train them out of that section. A major reason that people stay with companies for life is that they do not develop skill sets in their workplace that transfer to any other company.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

This makes a lot of sense, particularly the bit about oldies only thinking about their post-retirement life. So many in my company treat the office as a retirement village, absorbing a criminal amount of expenses for personal use, etc. Though if I reported any of this, I'd be marginalised and probably fired at some point

4 ( +6 / -2 )

A major reason that people stay with companies for life is that they do not develop skill sets in their workplace that transfer to any other company.

Companies seem to develop their own training systems and internal qualification systems so that switching companies means having to start from scratch. It makes employees unable to transfer, as experience and knowledge acquired along the way of limited value (since at least a significant part of what they might bring is company specific - especially with the rotation system which prevents them from becoming true specialists/experts).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I think it's not just the 50's oldies. Any newbie in a company or factory would experience some kind of ostracism. As in my case, some old timer foreign women workers thought I was out to grab their easy post or take away their "customers". No matter what age, as I'll be 60 next yr., being new to a company is worrisome!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Isn't "oldies" a rather offensive and discriminatory term? Like fatties or baldies? There are valuable workers of all ages, and worthless workers of all ages. No need to draw lines based on other personal criteria.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

As a Tokyo based (!) multimedia developer in the mid 60's I have to do most of the demanding work myself because “They (younger workers) have no IT skills, and zero desire to learn. They have junk for brains.”

10 ( +11 / -1 )

1) start your own business

2) be the change you want to see in the world

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Age discrimination?

Welcome to the real world, except in that in some countries, it's usually the 20 somethings that discriminate against 'old' workers in their 30's and 40's.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

1) start your own business

That's a failing plan for a lot of people. The fact is, running a business takes a mindset and discipline that most people don't have.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

5SpeedRacer5... That was deep. And i couldnt agree more.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Work no longer interests me. I have no hopes, no dreams.

I kind of know how he feels.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Spa! is focused in the right direction but there is more to the story -- and would make a great TV documentary.

An interesting study by Norasakkunkit (USA) and Uchida (Kyoto University) (2011) shows how many Japanese youth have lost confidence in the idea that a "successful and happy life" is to find a job in a large seniority based company be patient and follow the rules as their parents, school continually advise. When we see youth with savvy IT skills and increasingly knowledgeable about the global economy then I can certainly see as well there is a very high risk of incompatibility with the current workplace society. A friend who works as a recruiter says many youth just quit and look for a new company. (data I found says about 30% of new recruits quit after 3 years in a company)

I agree with other posters that complaining about an issue or will not bring happiness or progress -- but taking action will -- we need more young people to create a good political opposition to create a new society. I know a number of youth (and myself) that are doing this and getting graduate degrees in international universities and getting involved in politics so they can make changes to society......encouraging youth to get involved in politics will help change society to a new Japan that differs from the vision of the LDP.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Strangerland

Oh sure. Also it sometimes takes a couple of tries before sustained success, but the satisfaction is worth it for many who are otherwise marginalized by the status quo

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Accurate article is accurate.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Kick these old folks out of the company, and we will all be paying their welfare checks with our taxes. Better they stay in the company. And remember, they probably contributed a lot to the company during their younger days.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

MsDeliciousSEP. 21, 2016 - 08:06AM JST 10 million is not very much. I do much better than that. Life must be difficult at 10 million only

It doesn't matter if it's 10 million yen or 10 yen- if you sit in a job doing it improperly as a pout about your salary, you're a putz and you're in the way. Do your job correctly or get out and get a job you are able to do.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

“Are there people in their 50s in your company who qualify as useless baggage?”

It would have been more intellectually honest from Spa! to ask the same about workers in their 20s, 30s, 40s or even 60s. Why focus on one age group? To 'prove' all 50 something salarymen are overpaid lazy old f*rts?

Imo most clichés present in this article (and comments) aren't typical of any age group in particular. I have worked with as many lazy (intellectually or just 'plain lazy'), unmotivated, selfish etc workers in their 20s than in any other age groups. Work ethics isn't, in my experience, an 'age group' thing.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Like many things in Japan, it's mostly the system that is wrong, not the individuals in it. Hate the game, not the players.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have been here long enough to see young Japanese bitch & complain about their lot & the old geezers above them, now they have become those old geezers.........not as bad but old habits die hard.

Its a brutal awful ongoing system that is doing tremendous harm to Japan & its people, but its theirs to change, many don't want to, but thankfully more young people are seeing this awful thing called Japan Inc & some are opting out, more need to continue that trend, but we are no where near real changes yet sadly

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Like many things in Japan, it's mostly the system that is wrong, not the individuals in it. Hate the game, not the players.

The problem, as with any system, is that it has been copied blindly. Rotation to broaden the skills of all employees and so that they understand the different sides of the business is not bad, as long as they retain a core skill and that is what they largely focus on (but, having gained an understanding of different parts of the business).

If well managed, a seniority based system does reflect increase in experience. However, it requires active and careful management to ensure the more senior people have worked on 20 different projects over the years rather than the same (essentially) project 20 times....

But, the problem is that this requires careful monitoring and people speaking out, something which does not happen.

My suspicion is that Japan has been too successful in the past for its own good. Having been as successful as it has been, no one wants to touch the system for fear of breaking it, when in fact, occasionally breaking something is what is needed, in order to keep learning and gaining new lessons.

In addition, the Japanese market is either too large for its own good, or not large enough. It was large enough 30 or 40 years ago, when the baby boomers were bringing up families so that many companies could survive perfectly well focusing on the Japanese market alone, and thus insulated themselves from the outside world (and thus, opportunities to learn new techniques/technologies). But it was not large enough that when the boomers started retiring they could keep on going at it as they had been and are now suddenly struggling as they have to compete with the rest of the world but have no idea how to do so.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Being in my early 50s I have to say this is utter bollox. My IT skills are equal to if not better than my co-workers. I have another 15 years before I retire so no thinking about that 'second life'. Maybe it's different in Japan, but I have noticed a trend in Japanese media for complaining about older workers. If the younger generation want promotion let them earn it... stop bloody moaning.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

“Salary thieves!” “Incompetents!”

By the way, I've heard this over 30 years ago with the dead wood employees that came to work daily and did nothing but got paid tons of cash because companies wouldnt fire them.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@ stranger land

You quoted Ms Delicious as saying...

10 million is not very much. I do much better than that. Life must be difficult at 10 million only.

And then you suggest...

Hah, usually it's guys having a pissing contest. Bragging about your salary is never a good idea, there is always someone who makes more than you. (Hint: me)

I think the only ones here who understand you two are the two of you.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@ stranger land

You quoted Ms Delicious as saying...

10 million is not very much. I do much better than that. Life must be difficult at 10 million only.

And then you suggest...

Hah, usually it's guys having a pissing contest. Bragging about your salary is never a good idea, there is always someone who makes more than you. (Hint: me)

I think the only ones here who understand you two are the two of you.

My comment in brackets was a joke meant to prove my point. I have no idea how much Delicious makes, so I have no idea if I make more than her or not.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

It's not specifically a Japan thing. I work with 3 people in this age group who are very long term employees. Making these employees redundant would mean paying 2 years or so salary in severance, so the company will never do it.

All 3 are allergic to learning new things, and only ever perform the work tasks they know. Technological advance passes them by and they can't deal with it. As all 3 have been there so long they are also among the highest paid in the office.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I couldn't give a flying you-know-what about what the younger staff think about me. I think they have stupid haircuts and I earn more money for doing much less.

Bloody hell! Is that the time? I should be in the pub by now.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Like someone mentioned, if Spa had used any age group with those kinds of questions, it would have been the same. Of course, I'm sure there's truth in the statement that some in their 50s are not doing much for the company. Social media. That's what's making youth so outspoken now days. Continually freely giving opinions online, like we're doing here, can make people, more outspoken. I think that's the change from say, 30 years ago. And, this is a worldwide issue, probably more prevalent in other countries. I know in America the generation gap is huge in the workplace. This is probably also caused by social media. Anyway, hey, we're gonna make it boys. Let's hang on to the end...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This article is full of agism. I am over 50 and am one of the key creative forces in my day job as well as the production of events I do outside work. I earn every yen I make with damned hard work often dealing with millennials who are flaky and unreliable and people in their mid careers who are as intransigent as any elders I meet here.

We need to stop making broad assumptions about age. I know hard working dynamic older people and completely useless younger ones and vice versa.

What we all need is to start seeing individuals as just that, individuals. And stop this idiotic nonsense where we lump everyone into pigeon holes and think it is right.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Companies are utterly unimportant.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Talk about a leading question! They preordained the result by the question. Agree with RainMonster.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Blame Japanese Labor laws. If a Japanese company tries to layoff a 20 to 30 year full time employee... they'd be looking at paying him or her 2 to 3 years of severance salary. In the USA.... you might get 1 month's salary if you're lucky. In Japan... it is often too expensive to layoff a full time employee.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

when I developed a software for my company ( a financial giant) and said it will be capable of doing 10 peoples job my manager immediatly intervent and said dont talk like that. He took me to a place where 16 people were working and doing all paper work and doing manual calculations. Manager then said its not 10 its 16 and your software is going to take jobs of all of these people who are in their 50's. I thought thats why they hire me, out of curiocity I asked so I will get double bonus this year. NO manager replied, probably you will be kicked out form this company as they have very strong lobby in this company.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I'm all for flushing out the turds and bringing in new faces and ideas. But attitudes like "they give the younger staff all the unpleasant jobs" just sound entitled. That's how life is people. Gotta learn the hard stuff before the cushy stuff comes along. That's how it is with everything.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"I'm all for flushing out the turds and bringing in new faces and ideas. But attitudes like "they give the younger staff all the unpleasant jobs" just sound entitled. That's how life is people. Gotta learn the hard stuff before the cushy stuff comes along. That's how it is with everything."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

StrangerlandSEP. 21, 2016 - 08:21AM JST 10 million is not very much. I do much better than that. Life must be difficult at 10 million only. Hah, usually it's guys having a pissing Bragging about your salary is never a good idea, there is always someone who makes more than you. (Hint: I do.

The thing about discussing only one's salary is actually a distraction from the reality of life. I make 7 million ( as a professor) but then again I have incredible freedom in choosing materials, using my own textbooks, researching what I want to research, and very few people looking over my shoulder and criticizing me. I go home around 5 or 6, have weekends off, technically three months without classes, and I have tenure, a secure job, so...I am very, very happy. If you make 10 million and work six or seven days a week, and go home at 12 or 1 o'clock in the morning, and have lots of stress, I would never ever brag about a life like that!! That is a hell.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

If you make 10 million and work six or seven days a week, and go home at 12 or 1 o'clock in the morning, and have lots of stress, I would never ever brag about a life like that!! That is a hell.

I agree, I'd rather have less money and time to enjoy with my family, than more money and working all the time.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It would have been more intellectually honest from Spa! to ask the same about workers in their 20s, 30s, 40s or even 60s. Why focus on one age group?

Probably because Spa! targets people under 50 and they are playing to their demographic.

“Are there people in their 50s in your company who qualify as useless baggage?”

As others have noted, this is a "leading question" designed to illicit a certain response. Phrasing questions this way is one of the leading things you should NOT do in conducting a survey.

By the way, I've heard this over 30 years ago with the dead wood employees that came to work daily and did nothing but got paid tons of cash because companies wouldnt fire them.

More likely couldn't fire them. Just this morning I checked with a British academic on this very point. Here is a slightly edited version of his note.

"All regular employees, regardless of size of organisation or occupation are covered by the 'doctrine of abusive dismissal’ (kaikoken ranyō hōri). Neither the US nor the UK comes close. ... the essential message is that Japan has some of the most secure and labour friendly legal provisions anywhere."

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The ironic thing is that these younger workers who are doing the complaining will be exactly like the older workers they are complaining about.

The will be like them because the seniority-based promotion systems they work in will not reward them for any additional value they might add to their companies. Like the engineer who invented the blue LED, and received a 10,000 yen bonus for an invention worth billions of dollars and a Nobel Prize. Since no one is recognized for performance, or rewarded for it, no on will bother to perform, and all will become deadwood salarymen who do little more than keep their seats warm for 10 or 12 hours per day.

These deadwood workers cannot be fired, they cannot be demoted, and, crazily enough, they must continue to be promoted up the ranks, even if they are incapable or unwilling to do the work, which is why so man companies have two, or even three managers doing the job that a single manager could do in any other developed country.

The deadwood workers created deadwood companies, and deadwood companies create a deadwood national economy.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

And we will all be there, so watch what you say! (Me in about 20 years).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

age in the work place is a double edge sword, experience has its advantage, but it can easily become a disadvantage when they refuse to change with the times. the youthful energy a double edge sword aswell they go running head long in to the newest thing and then hit a brick wall. ideally the 2 should balance them selves out.

seniority-based promotion systems and should be done away with and people recognized for performance and what they bring to the job, but in such system they should recognize the experience older people bring with them

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Like the engineer who invented the blue LED, and received a 10,000 yen bonus for an invention worth billions of dollars and a Nobel Prize.

Nakamura Shuji's annual salary was 20 million yen by the time he left Nichia in 1999. He also received 62 million yen in bonuses over 11 years.

Obviously it's a much better story to say that all he got for an invention worth billions was 10,000 yen, and I don't doubt that that's the one you'll continue to tell.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/01/nobel-laureate-shuji-nakamura-still-angry-japan

"I think that until the Japanese economy collapses, no changes will happen at all. Just like after World War II, everything changed [because] Japan collapsed. I think first Japan has to collapse economically."

Sadly it looks more like this everyday.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This headline could equally well read - Unable to keep pace with change, politicians over 50 are 'destroying their countries'

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So essentially, Japanese millennials have the same sense of self-entitlement and privilege as all others? Imagine that.

And older people are more concerned with their financial security as they transition to retirement? Stop the presses!

And the ability and desire to learn and utilize new technologies decreases with age? The horror!

And I bet that those youth will be as stubborn with those 2040s youth and their neural interfaces, as we were with the parents unable to set the time on the VCR.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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