Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Corner Market in my Neighborhood

Category: Short Story Winners, Issue 2

has everything you’d expect it to have, plus this: next to the racks of candy bars, beneath the tortilla chips, you’ll find moments of your life: sealed, shrink wrapped, and stamped with an expiration date for freshness.

For 99 cents you get part of your life back: an hour, a minute, a moment and a half.

Oh, to have those perfect moments back… a picnic on Mt. Rainier. An afternoon in the surf at Santa Cruz. A lazy Sunday morning on the front porch.

But not for 99 cents. No, what you get for your dollar is pot luck, but most likely along these lines: Standing in line at the grocery store. The morning you dropped your toast on the floor. An hour in front of the TV.

Question: Who buys these things?

Answer: The harried manager at lunch hour, the young woman stopping in to grab snacks for a party, the local wag who comes in for gossip and a 25 cent cup of coffee. Each one buying a bit of their life back—an hour, a minute, a moment and a half. Thinking they can live it over, they they can learn something this time, that in a second chance there might be a wisdom they missed last time around.

Question: how much wisdom do you get for ninety-nine cents?

Answer, ferreted out of carefully selected focus groups: enough to get you to come back for more, but not enough to ever provide satisfaction, let alone enlightenment.

Question: And what happens to the unsold packages? The ones remaining after the “must sell by” date passes?

Answer: The distributor takes them back to be incinerated, and the ashed of memories disperse into the atmosphere. (Recently, a church in Chicago took a truckload of expired memories and gave them out with their hot meals. So it was that the indigent, the forgotten, and the weary, for an hour, a minute, a moment and a half, received an all too brief vision of a life before. No one asked for seconds.)

Me? I bad-mouthed the whole idea for a month, before I succumbed to an impulse buy on my way to get a cold drink. And here’s what I got: Two minutes of a spring day, my old neighborhood, not three years ago, walking to the post office. Thoughts of everything and nothing in particular: an airplane overhead. An old friend. A lost love, bills to pay, a slice of pie.

It was pleasant enough. I won’t miss the 99 cents. But did I get my money’s worth? Yesterday, in that same store, I passed by the packaged memories and bought a lottery ticket instead—a dollar’s worth of hope, of dreaming, of possibility, of luck. But I looked at the rack of memories and thought, “Why didn’t I think of this? I could have been a very rich man.”

Could have been.

That’s the reason these plastic pouches will keep selling and selling. An antidote to regret, fueled by our eternal hope, that with one more chance, life would be better. An antidote to these words:

If we could just do it over again.

We might have—

I could have—

If only.

Posted by Captain Vegetable on 12/27 at 04:27 AM | Permalink
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