and I'm greeted by an assortment of family. Now the meter is running: Christmas Break officially begins. We ride through the Bronx, stopping to visit relatives here, relatives there. We ride some more.

The 80s haven't been good to some of these neighborhoods - "Morning in America" my ass. There's an almost visible cloud of... something - a winter pall that wasn't caused by mere weather. The car radio is tuned to WBLS; there seems to be a Ballad Glut, perhaps appropriate to this something-cloud that I can feel better than I can name.

We stop at White Castle. I can't stand the stuff, but fries and a shake are fine with me. Tracy has her usual field day with the little mutant burgers, and she continues to brighten up my day by sheer force of silliness energy, leavened by a spoonful of attitude.

Will Dawn still despise me? Surely. I haven't changed, nor has she; in her eyes, I'm still Glowing Scum from Planet Zong. So be it. I'm hearing Elvis in my head, perhaps an antidote to the Ballad Glut. But this is actually more-of-the-same...

I'll have a blue Christmas without you
I'll be so blue, thinking about you...

Like hell. Dawn is no big deal. I'm home, in the center of the universe, the city I love to hate. Life is good. I'll get to see the Little Ones, marvel at how they've grown and how they remain irrepressible, incorrigible, indestructible...


Flashback in a flashback: The Poughkeepsie Missile Crisis (1979)

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