When I was at culinary school, I had a roommate named James.  I didn’t really care for him.  He was too testy and tightly wound.  Doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, though, which proceeds thus:

He dropped out of high school at fifteen and dedicated his life to being a “dead-head”–somebody who does nothing but follow the Grateful Dead around on tour and hang out with other dead-heads.  He lived that life for about ten years, crashing in hippified school-busses, cultivating dreadlocks, swapping tie-dye shirts for weed.  Stinking of patchouli and pot.

He had no contact whatsoever with his family during all this time.

Finally, somehow, he got wind that his sister back in Pennsylvania was going to have a baby, making him an uncle (he never really explained to me how word of this development somehow reached him).  James took this a wake-up call, as a sign that it was time for him to get a shower, a haircut, and a job.  The dead-head days had come to an end, so he got on a Greyhound bus bound for Pennsylvania.

First night back, he sits down with mater and pater in their formal dining room, tucking into pheasant and caviar.  Once they’re sated, mater volunteers to clear the plates, leaving just James and his father in the formal dining room.

“Listen, dad,” James says.  “I’m really sorry.  I feel bad.  I was gone for, like, ten years, and I never sent you a post-card or anything.  I never even called you.  I feel sorry about that now.”

“James,” his father says, “we were never really worried about you.  Come here and let me show you something.”

Remember, now, that his dad worked for the NSA.

He leads James into his home office or study or whatever you want to call it, and sits him down at the visitor side of his desk.  Dad pulls a fat manila folder out of a desk drawer and flips it open to reveal a stack of glossy 8 x 10 photographs.

“Here’s you at the Dead show in Santa Cruz on April 12.”  Flips the photo over to reveal another one.  “Here’s you using a pay-phone at a 7-11 in Oakland, May 3.  Here’s you having breakfast at an IHOP in Bakersfield on May 5.  Good thing you don’t hang out with this girl any more; she’s bad news.  Here’s you napping in a trailer in Snoqualmie on May 17.”  On and on.

Finally, his dad cracked a sincere smile and said, “We were never worried about you.  We knew exactly where you were, and exactly what you were doing.”