Each year on December 24, the boy’s father takes Stephen and him shopping. All three of them have usually bought almost all their gifts, but Dad likes to be out in the crowds, get lunch, browse a bookstore, and spend time together before heading home for Christmas Eve traditions. The boy is twelve and a half; Stephen is a year younger.
They leave the house a little late, so they head first to Mr. Gatti’s Pizza, which has a pizza buffet. In other words, this is heaven. They spend just shy of an hour pounding down pizza, endless soda, and breadsticks. When they leave, the boy’s stomach feels like it might burst. The next stop is the former BookStop now known as Barnes & Noble. As they enter the store, Dad says with a sigh, “I sure miss BookStop.”
“Why is that?” Stephen says. “It all looks the same to me. Rows and rows and rows of boring old books.”
Dad rubs Stephen’s head. “Said like a true Philistine. There’s nothing better than a good bookstore, and there was no bookstore better than BookStop. They had half-price books! Throughout the store! You could get so many great deals!”
Stephen says, “Let’s not take too long. I like the war books and the sports books, but after that it’s all boring.”
Dad looks at the boy. “And what about you?”
“I mean, I like a lot of books but not as many as you. I’m with Stephen.”
Dad laughs. “All right. Well, we won’t be longer than three hours.”
Their dad heads off to look at novels and history, while the boy and Stephen check out the military section. After about half an hour, he and Stephen are ready to be done. They wander over to their dad who is standing in an aisle holding the book Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard.
“What you looking at?” the boy asks Dad.
His dad is reading the first few pages. “This book has supposedly sold millions and millions of copies. And I just can’t see why. I mean, it just seems so out there.”
The boy doesn’t really care. He shrugs. “Stephen and I are ready.”
His dad nods. “Okay. Just a couple more, and we can head out.”
“Okay,” says the boy.
He doesn’t want to leave his dad’s side because if he does his dad will take even longer. So he picks up a book and starts to flip through it mindlessly.
Then, his dad belches. Loudly.
The boy’s face turns deep red, and he feels hot embarrassment all over his body. He glances at his dad, who just keeps reading Dianetics.
Down at the other end of the aisle is a man with messed up brown hair dressed in a dirty army-green jacket . Several moments after the belch, the man looks up from a book he is holding. He sniffs the air, then exclaims, “Shit! Holy shit! Damn tacos or something!”
The man thumps his book back into the shelf, then storms up the aisle past them. The boy wants to melt into the floor. He glances at Stephen who is trying to stifle laughter.
The three of them are quiet for at least a minute when Dad suddenly says, “Hey, Gordon, was that guy talking about me?”
The boy grits his teeth. “Yes, Dad!”
“But I didn’t have tacos. I had pizza.”
Dad puts down Dianetics. “You two ready?”