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So that's the man that made me, you think. He sits in the middle of the couch, arms flung out on both sides gripping the back, trying to look magnanimous, you suppose but, as always, only managing to look uncomfortable in the presence of strangers.

"Grandpa, grandpa. Look what it can do. I can make it into a spaceship and then it goes rippin' off through the universe blastin' ulterior monsters. Bazoosh!"

"That's nice," he says calmly, beatifically and you wonder if that's how he imagines the saints speak.

"Paul, why don't you go play in the playroom?" you say, not even dreaming of compliance.

"Cause the universe doesn't go that far, Dad."

Dad. Grandpa. You wonder at how those titles get passed along the line of ancestors, generation to generation. Not the titles of landed noblesse. Just the humdrum titles of blood. Didn't we call this guy 'Dad' once? Wasn't there another Grandpa somewhere? That's right. Only Grandpa was referred to as 'Pop' when around; 'The Old Man' behind his back. Funny, this one gets 'The Old Man' too. What was it this one had said about his Pop? Oh yeah: 'If The Old Man votes Goldwater I'm gonna send them a juicy turd in the mail.' Even if you'd known who Goldwater was you couldn' t imagine anyone getting mad at Pop.

"You must be tired from the drive. Would you like a beer or some juice? Just some water...?"
"Oh, I don't care. . ."
You don't care? Well, die of thirst then. What does that mean 'You don't care?' Either you want something or you don't. "Well, I'm gonna have a beer." You get up, go into the kitchen and get two. You give your wife a hug as she works over the stove and then call out: "Do you want a glass?"

"It doesn't matter...." he says.

What is this Armageddon Day or what? Drink it from the bottle then. Don't drink it for all I care. You set down the beers, hesitate, set down the glass next to his, then go get another for yourself.

"See Grandpa. Outta these guns it blasts smucker bombs. And even if you gotta forcefield they'll smuck your ship to high-heavens. Kapleesh!"

"Unhunh, I see. ..." he says and you feel like wiping Nirvana off his face once and for all. "Paul, don't bug your Grandpa. He had a long trip and he's tired."

"Well, where do you live, Grandpa?"

"Nevada."

"Nevada? Where's that? Do you have ulterior monsters down there?"

"Paul! I'm worried. This stuff they watch can't be good for them."

"What worries me about these kids is that they've yet to be baptised."

Worried? In a pig's eye! The only thing you're worried about is that you make your monthly quota of conversions for that fast-talking salesman you send your money away to every month. "Look. We've been all through that, Dad. They're my kids and this is my house and you won't bring that subject up as long as you're here."

"What's "baptised, Grandpa?"

"Paul, you march into that playroom right this minute. Now." The child goes and you think back. Oh, yeah: "Little children should be seen and not heard.' That's what he used to say. One thing though, you've never said that to these children. That's something anyway. And then it was his turn not to be seen nor heard from for all those years. Lost in some crackpot religious fervour. And then, as suddenly as he'd left, the letters started coming, filled with childish misgivings. What was it? "I look forward to meeting my Father in heaven. My only grief in passing onto the next world is that I can't take my children with me.' Maybe they don't want to go.

"Dad! Can I come out now?"

"Yes, but leave your grandpa alone. Just play quietly, okay?"

"Okay."

'Grandpa.' What a wierd word. And what happened to the Grandpa before. Dead. Bad heart. Buried somewhere on the east coast. New Jersey you think. The state with the world's highest concentration of hazardous waste disposal sites. Probably just chucked him into one of the pits to make room for industrial expansion. Poor Pop. And so the title passes on, not down the ranks like some precious family heirloom. No, handed up by the children. And the children's children without whom there can be no titles.

You remember the last time you spoke to Grandpa, to Pop. That was--what!--half a lifetime ago. You'd just finished high school and went east for a visit. You're enjoying their company, watching TV when the Public Service Announcement asks: 'Do you know where your children are?' Up jumps Pop and rages at the set: 'No. No I don't know where they are. You tell me.' Later you both go for a walk down by the river, the polluted river, and he asks you about his child, about your Dad, but you can't help him very much. All you can say is that he's living in Nevada. And he's religious now. That's all. Because you don't know where your parents are either. And after that you never saw Pop again.

"Grandpa, did you know that on Zagthor there's a monster with seven heads and zillions of teeth and yucky green slime dripping off him and he made the world to play with and he's gonna destroy it too?"

"Is that so...?"

"Paul, where do you get that stuff?"

"It's true, Dad. It's on the TV every day at three and Bagzon is the good guy. And he's gonna kill Zagthorian with a smucker gun just like I have on this ship."

"You're going to be brain dead by the time you're five."

"Grandpa, if I'm a good boy and it's not too expensive can I get the Bagzon Fleet Commander Set?"

"That's enough Paul."

"I know a place where we can get it."

And after you're a grandpa, what then? With luck, a great-grandpa and maybe then a great-great-grandpa. But that's the limit. In all likelihood you'll never make it that far. You'll join the grandpa before you in the hazardous waste pit, bubbling about in the soup with all the ghouls that went before you while this guy, the bandit of Bagzon, steps into his birthright: yet another esteemed, honourable grandpa. And maybe by then there will be flying saucers equipped with smuckers dashing all over the place but you'll never know it. Neither will that guy over there on the couch, the guy that looks like his own 'Pop' did some thirty years ago. And you too are getting the 'Pop' look: a thickening girth, a thinning head of hair. Why couldn't it be the other way around? If you have to suffer the ignominy of failing why do you have to look like it too?

"Do you have smucker guns in Nevada?"

"Some people do."

"Do you have ice cream there? We do. There's a place just over there that has yummy dippers. Do you want me to show you where it is Grandpa?"

"Paul, don't ask so many questions." Time certainly hasn't been good to him. He's just a broken little man now, no longer the firebrand of your youth, just a broken little man who must rely on superstitious incantations to get him from one day into the next. But in spite of the mumbo and the jumbo, you know, that one day soon the next day won't come for him.

"Excuse me boys. Dad, could you make sure Paul washes his hands while you, check on the little one, see if she's awake yet. Then everyone come to dinner."

You marvel at her practicality and say "Smells good, honey."





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