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Dear Reader:

I'm at Hammacher Schlemmer on Michigan Avenue, staring at the Harley Davidson Telephone ($89.95) and waiting for the salesperson to bring me the Nutcracker Music Box ($39.95) my brother asked me to pick up. The store is crowded; it's 15 days before Christmas, and everyone is shouting.

"It's all toys. Just what we need, more toys."

"Yes, I'm looking for the electric nose-hair clippers."

"Can I tell you the number and you get this in back for me?" "No problem. I'll be right with you." "Wow. I love how mail order works!"

"Silent Night" plays louder and louder until it's almost deafening; an impish-looking man is turning up the display stereo's volume while he and his friends watch the crowd's reaction. No one seems to notice.

"Is this a line?"

"Sort of."

When I get home, I find that I was given the Romeo and Juliet Music Box ($49.95) by mistake. I throw a quick tantrum and talk my brother into keeping it anyway.

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