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“It's all right Rudy, I'm not jealous. Really, I'm not." Kristy transcended "jealous" years ago. "I'd just like to know why you've been holding on to her picture for so long."

Ah, dear Reader, is there a married man living who hasn't purged his drawers and closets of premarital memorabilia, only to have one more incriminating relic from yester-life rear its lovely head? Kristy contends that old flames never die, not completely. They smolder for years in hidden places. They flare up again just when you think you're over them.

"I had no idea Sandy was even in there," I said. "Her picture, I mean. The dresser must have eaten her...eaten

"Dressers eat what you feed them. They're like goldfish."

"More like garbage cans. Or graveyards."

"Or cold storage containers. Maybe you've been keeping 'S-A-N-D-Y' on ice. Her memory, I mean."

Kristy has certainly matured since we first started courting, from an insecure young girl who wanted to be the first and only female I ever cared about, to an enlightened soul mate who realizes that being the last is safer and more desirable than being the first. What's more, she could never love a man who had not been serious about the women who preceded her. A man of integrity, see, does not collect things by accident, nor does he hold onto them unless they’re special to him.

Shall I tell you the crux of this argument? A man with a past can be forgiven. A man without one can't be trusted. If there were no pictures in my drawer, I probably would have had to produce some.



For the purposes of our research, we needed two parents and two teens, preferably from the same family. It was difficult enough finding four such family members in the same place, as most of them tended to split up the moment they reached the shopping mall. Harder yet was getting all four members to volunteer their time at the VH Institute during the busiest season of the year. Just the idea of them sitting in the same room together at the same time was, in itself, an unsettling proposition for most of the families we interviewed. I told my research assistant that we'd have probably done better recruiting four strangers.

"How would you like to take part," I'd say to them during the initial interview, "in a historical, ground breaking experiment in human consciousness? To be the first American family to help us usher in the Christmas of the far flung techno-future?"

No dice. I barely got them to look up from their Sloppy Freeze Frothees long enough to roll their eyes and look the other way. I tried explaining to them that our virtual machine could actually transport them from "this shallow, commercial, pseudo-spiritual, non-experiential substitute for true holiday enchantment...
[here, I gestured to the main promenade with all its gaudy furbishings] an intensely personal encounter with the real thing."

It wasn't until I finally took my PR rep's advice and began offering free movie passes and discount coupons for MacJingles that people suddenly began to show an interest in our experiment.



"Brian's dad left when he was nine," my mother tries explaining to Miss Boyle, once the learned counselor rests her chops long enough for her to squeeze a word in.

“His dad was
nine?” is her response.

Yeah, right, my dad was nine! This is the doo-doo head the school board put in charge of people’s futures—a child with a suit and a college degree. Just goes to show you how the system rewards those who finish the race.

The old lady, who isn’t the sharpest dart on the board either, has to run this riddle through her processor a couple of times before she can say anything. "No, I mean...I mean,
Brian was nine when his dad left,” she says. “The two were so close, I couldn't tell them apart. They did everything together. Played, watched TV, built things, took walks."

Yeah, and we made plans. But my mother was never in on them.



The Shop-a-lot, for the benefit of those living outside the tri-county area, is THE one-stop solution for virtually everything practical for your home or garden—from Maalox to mothballs, from mascara to mulch. If this mega-establishment has not yet invaded your corner of the world, give it time. You may already know it by a different name.

I doubt there's a family within a 40 mile radius that does not frequent at least one of Shop-a-lot's super stores that have shot up along the Culver over the last 10-15 years. When Norm Bassin first began working for the organization, there were only four of these eyesores in existence, I believe. Today there many? Eight? Ten? I've lost count. These retail behemoths dwarf every other structure in the vicinity and are highly visible from the freeway. Over time, entire plazas, replete with motels, restaurants and cineplexes, have grown up around them, expanding and redefining the region, replacing precious farmland with new businesses, new jobs, and an epidemic of new housing projects to accommodate waves of new families that want to live closer to where they work. City planners and marketing visionaries predict that the present growth phenomenon will spawn at least ten more super stores over the next twenty years, reaching well beyond the Culver. (“Why? Because we can!” to quote the store's motto.) These one-stop-solutions, in turn, will give rise to more strip malls, more highways, more development—an ever sprawling congestion of communities caught up in the business of doing business—and a whole new generation of kids reaping the rewards of their parents' sacrifices. The tradition continues.

Working for the ubiquitous super store must have given Norm his first sense of belonging. I imagine it made him feel, despite the isolation of his warehouse assignment, that he was somehow "connecting" with his new found community, made him feel like a part of something larger, more powerful than himself. I wonder if the man ever paused long enough to consider all the secret ways in which he invested a part of himself in the lives of people he’d never met simply by handling the goods they used everyday. If you ate it, smoked it, chugged it, planted it, flossed with it, plunged with it, cooked with it, cleaned with it, mowed with it, lounged in it, frolicked in it, danced to it, talked on it, played on it, poured it in your engine, applied it to your face, fed it to your fish, or used it to wipe your butt, chances are that it had passed through Norm's hands long before it reached you. That certainly is powerful, when you think about it. I doubt that anyone ever does, least of all the people whose lives (and butts) have been touched by devoted, hard working men like Norm.



The whole world had to know he’d been drinking. For all the people who dwelled inside the too-tight chamber of his head had felt the quake last night, and the throbbing aftershock this morning.



For the first time, I saw the psychological havoc the old coot had wrought upon those two screwed up sisters of mine. The angst, the rebellion: it all began to make sense...

...Years of putting up with Dad’s unmuzzled wisecracks had left both ladies spiritually ravaged, emotionally barren, childless, friendless, clueless and altogether hopeless. Afraid to love, too lazy to find meaningful employment, Meagan and Leah now mooch off their mom by day, and sing in a rock band at night. What that joker did to them, to all of us, is pathetic.




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