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Shelf Life S he was walking down the crooked porch steps, her purple straw hat floating above the thicket of Jerusalem artichokes in the front yard until her body reemerged at the sidewalk where she waited for me to pass. “Do you eat cereal?” she asked. Her question jolted me as much as the two Scotties and beagle I walked everyday. I halfheartedly tugged at their leashes, but the dogs were too revved up to stop. Mac made strangled, gagging noises as he lunged with his jaw to bite a mouthful of air as if it were a jumbo sandwich. Tosh was jumping up on her hind legs, her front paws occasionally landing on Mac’s back, wagging her tail as steadily as a windshield wiper. Lucy was marching quickly along with her spotted coat that resembled army fatigues while her ears hung over her face like the flaps of an untied aviator’s cap. The three dogs combined almost weighed as much as I did. In fact, when their owner, Brad, looked at how thin I was, he asked if I would be able to handle them. He knew that standing still they may be eighty-seven pounds of fat but on the run, they were two hundred pounds of energy. I didn’t feel like stopping either. 92 93 “Sometimes,” I called, glancing back at the woman. “What kind?” she shouted. By this time, I was halfway down the street and didn’t want to say I ate granola from the bulk bin of the East End Food Co-op. I was told this block was a Shredded Wheat stronghold since some of the people still had jobs at the Nabisco plant. Eating another brand of cereal in this Pittsburgh neighborhood was as bad as driving a Toyota in the days when our steel mills were running. The dogs stopped to sniff, so I turned to take a better look at this woman’s house. It wasn’t painted up like the ones on the hill or covered with aluminum siding like the ones on the flat. The wood was stripped down. I grew up thinking it was good that people had to cover their homes with dark siding or shingles so soot from the mill didn’t show. It meant people were working, and nobody cared if they couldn’t paint a house a pretty color because all it did was turn gray anyway. Now that the mills were mostly closed down, some people who could afford it were hiring color consultants to paint their house with a half dozen colorful shades like the Victorians in San Francisco . That’s what Lucy, Mac, and Tosh’s owner, Brad, did. Then my eye spotted the one bright thing about this woman’s house, a lemon yellow pulley, bouncing with light. It was the same putrid color of the Jell-O salad my mother used to make with carrots and pineapple. One line of the pulley led from her attic window to the garage and another to a big dumpster. It looked like it belonged in a circus act—all it needed was an acrobat swinging from it. When I began walking the dogs a few weeks ago, Brad had warned me to look out for a woman with a fluorescent pulley. “Her name’s Olive LaRosa and she carries a weapon,” he told me. “A weapon?” It seemed a bit melodramatic. “Well, I’ve never seen it, but she wears a holster. She hums all the time too.” “So?” “She’s a couple of megabites short of a hard drive. Needs some Shelf Life recircuiting upstairs. And if you stop to talk to her, I guarantee no matter what you say, it’ll all come back to cereal. Trust me.” “I can think of worse things to talk about. At least in some circles.” “And she had the nerve to buy a set of dishes at the church garage sale and then try and sell them to me for twenty dollars more. Can you believe that?” Brad was looking for sympathy, but he wasn’t going to get any from me. If he wasn’t paying me to walk his dogs, I would have asked if it occurred to him that Olive may not have a lot of money. Not everyone made the transition to a high-tech job like he did when he became a computer programmer. Most workers I knew went from production line to soup...


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MARC Record
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