Let’s start at the beginning. 1951.
What happened in 1951?
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, was published, and disaffected preppies were never the same again.
Maggie Roberts married Dennis Thatcher and turned over night into Magaret Thatcher.
But the big news came on December 23rd, when the last Belgian towns finally got electricity and Frances Stoneback Underhill was born to his delighted parents, Francis and Savi.
In 1952 the little Underhill family moved abroad to (Poland?) where the hairless & precocious one-year celebrated his first birthday. And though Christine Jorgenson became the 1st person to undergo a sex-change operation, Underhill Ma & Pa kept the disturbing news from your Paco.
On the occasion of his second birthday in 1953, Paco announced that he wanted to redesign the public space in the Warsaw playground. He said he did not care a fig when General Electric announced all Communist employees would be fired.
Paco had to share the limelight on his 3rd birthday in 1954, with the first human kidney transplant. He has had an ambivalent relationship with kidneys ever since.
I don’t know where Paco was living in 1955 but I feel sure it was another exotic country, where it probably was not featured on the evening news that the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York was opened to traffic. For his birthday, Paco requested a copy of “Blue Suede Shoes.”
On the very day before Paco’s 5th birthday, in 1956, Colo, the gorilla was born – he was the first gorilla bred in captivity. Paco sympathized.
1957: Paco celebrated his 6th birthday in the Philippines (Other country?) by organizing all his friends into a field team and following around shopper in the Manila Food Market. That same month, Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown, while he was still married to his 1st wife.
In 1958 Paco sang along with the Number one hit: “The Chipmunk Song”, at his birthday party. The Embassy staff were amazed and suggested he look into a career in diplomacy. Meanwhile, French franc was devalued. His sister Lisa entered the world with great fanfare; Paco felt compelled to point that that she was “only” a baby sister.
Who knows where Paco & the Underhill clan found themselves in 1959? We can only hope that there was decent television reception so that he could watch the debut "Rocky & His Friends".
IN 1960 Paco was busy learning the multiplication tables & as was proper for a nine-year old, he kept a menagerie of crickets and stinkbugs in his pockets. He was delighted when. King Baudouin of Belgium married dona Fabiola de Mora y Aragon, because they would look so lovely on stamps.
1961: Unfortunately for the Museum of Modern Art, they hung Matisse's “Le Bateau” upside down for 47 days. At age 10, Paco was not yet active on their advisory committee.
In 1963 Paco turned 12, and Bell Telephone introduced push button telephone; Paco, the budding shopping guru immediately saw the possibilities for touch-tone dialing and keeping people waiting endlessly on the phone.
In 1964 entered that glorious time in one’s life known as teenager-hood, and Ringo Starr had his tonsils removed.
It is no coincidence that Paco entered high school in 1965, the very year in which the director Kenneth Tynan said the word "fuck" on BBC. The world has never been the same again.
Since the records have been sealed, we will gloss over Paco’s illustrious high school career at Milton Academy Boys School. Outside of academia, a few important world events did grab his attention: in 1966 LSD was declared illegal in the United States. The following year, Jimi Hendrix recorded “purple Haze”, and in 1968 Evel Knievel failed in his attempt to jump Caesar's Palace Fountain. That did not stop Julie Nixon from marrying David Eisenhower a mere one day before the first American case of motion sickness in space. In 1969, John Lennon's "2 Virgins" album was declared pornographic. Later that year, John Lennon was offered role of Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar. Woodstock took place in upstate New York, in the rain. Where was Paco Underhill, rock star?
And then came 1970, the year of Paco’s infamous valedictory address to the assembled throng at Milton Academy, and John Lennon’s historic release of an album containing the word "fuck". Milton Academy was never the same again.
Paco matriculated at Vassar College, yet another institution that will never be the same again. He majored in futuristics, a complex discipline combining the rigor of history with the creativity of origami with the lab work of gene-splicing with the vision of optometry. Much is shrouded in secrecy, but we do know that while Paco pursued higher education, Howard Hughes declared Clifford Irving's bio to be a fake, John Cleese's final episode on "Monty Python's Flying Circus," aired on BBC, and the timeless classic, "Young & Restless" premiered on network TV.
(Sometime in here Paco learns how to make kimchi while studying in Seoul, Korea where his father is the Deputy Ambassador.)
In 1974, Paco graduated from Vassar just in time for Richard Nixon to resign the presidency and John Lennon to report seeing a UFO over New York City. Paco immediately moved to New York City, which will never be the same again. He took up palatial quarters over Ear Inn on Spring Street, featuring rooftop access through a broken window.
In 1975, as Paco begins to pursue his lifelong ambition to change the way people use public space, the Kilauea Volcano erupts in Hawaii.
1976: Paco is still living on Spring Street when Playboy reveals that Jimmy Carter lusts for women in his heart. That same year, Paco acts as best man and chief vizier at the marriage of his friends Jeff and Christine.
In 1977 snow fell in Miami, Florida for the first and only time in that city’s history. Paco was busy founding the “first iteration” of Envirosell. If you don’t know what that iteration looked like, think: cheap cameras, seat-of-pants. Paco celebrates Thanksgiving with a bunch of friends at the soon-to-open EAR INN. No one gets ptomaine poisoning.
While babysitting in 1978, Paco removes Reine Wing Hewitt’s pink bootie. He hides it away for a future date when its reappearance will be appropriate. Under the leadership of Rip Hayman, Sari Dienes and the globe-trotting gourmet Paco Underhill, EAR INN becomes a hugely successful bar and eatery for hipsters, artist, bums, bootleggers and two-headed giraffes.
It is 1979, and as Pluto moves closer, making Neptune the outermost planet, Paco Underhill is observing shoppers and formulating the butt-brush factor that will soon take the world of retail by storm.
Paco became a godfather in 1981. Taking seriously his duty to behave so badly that he will make even the parents look good, Paco begins collecting tasteless tee shirts. Meanwhile, Vanuatu becomes a member of the United Nations.
In 1982 Paco spends many long and arduous hours making sure the barstools at EAR INN are solidly affixed to the floor. He is so busy that he doesn’t even look up when the world is stunned to learn that Urbe Blanca, a Cuban cow, cow produces a record 242.5 pounds of milk, in one day.
The 1980’s were so busy for Paco Underhill, supermarket spy, entrepreneur, retail psychologist, and restaurateur that it would be impossible to document his activities. Let us just say that he turned 33, then 34, then 35 and so on, while at Heathrow Airport $38.7 million worth of gold bars were stolen in the world’s biggest ever heist. Also, the Belgian princess Astrid married archduke Otto L van Austrian-Este. Playboy magazine announced the end of stapling centerfolds, and Coca-Cola introduced Cherry Coke to the world. An iceberg twice size of Rhode Island was sighted in Antarctic, but more significantly for Paco in his godfatherly role, the very first condom commercial was aired on BBC TV. Not long after that pivotal event, animal rights terrorists firebombed Harrod's dept. store in London. As the 1980’s drew to a close, the Bulgarian party president Todor Zjikov, resigned his post and moved to New York to start a restaurant called Kidney Kitchen, having heard that body-part-named bars did well with the American crowd. Just in time for Paco’s 38th birthday, Vice-President Quayle sent out 30,000 Xmas cards misspelling the word beacon.
Then came 1990 and the Greyhound Bus strike. Ted Turner & Jane Fonda announced their engagement and Paco started surreptitiously filming shoppers as they picked their collective noses.
In more godparental news, 1991 saw thousands of condoms being handed out free to thousands of NYC high school students. High school will never be the same again.
Only 359 years after the fact, the Catholic Church in 1992 reinstated Galileo Galilei. Paco Underhill. Age 41, advises the pope on Marketing to Sinners in the coming Millennium.
In 1993 Donald Trump wed Marla Maples, but Paco resisted the allure of matrimony. He continued to resist in 1994 when J Paul Getty Jr married Victoria Holdsworth on Barbados. In other news of the nineties, Charles and Diana divorce, Woody Allen marries Soon-Yi and President Clinton reassures the American public that he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Betty Rubble finally becomes one of the Flintstone vitamins.
Yet amidst all that nuptial sturm und Drang, around 1994 Paco met the acclaimed flautist (or flutist) Sheryl Henze. She would henceforth be known to the reading public as “Dreamboat”, while she continued to be known to herself as Sheryl. He played her pipes and she stroked his solar sex-panel, otherwise known as a bald head. Love and cohabitation swiftly ensued.
In 1996, the New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, in an article entitled The Science of Shopping, describes the ever-debonair Paco as goofy-looking. All over America, young men start to grow Paco’s trademark “goofy-beard”.
Then, in 1999, WHY WE BUY hits the bookstores, the airports, the boardrooms and the used book stalls along the Seine, to rave reviews. It is translated into 47 languages, including Serbo-Croatian, Esperanto and Inuit. The world of retail will never be the same again.
The world does not come to an end in 2000, even when Vermont's civil unions law goes into effect.
Madonna and Guy Ritchie get married in Scotland while Paco Underhill plays bagpipes.
IN 2001 Enron files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens after 11 years and $27,000,000. It still leans. Why We Buy is turned into a mini-series staring Madonna as Mrs. American Shopper and Richard Gere as Paco, Shopping Guru.
Signs of large ice deposits are found on the planet Mars in 2002 and The Wall Street Journal asks Paco to write a column about the potential for discount outlets on other planets.
In 2003 New Hampshire's famous Old Man of the Mountain collapses. Mother Teresa is beatified by Pope John Paul II, and the movie version of Why We Buy grosses $14m in its first weekend. It features Meryl Streep as a K-Mart shopper and George Clooney as Paco.
Things are heating up. In 2004, because of a build-up of gas, a decomposing sperm whale explodes in Taiwan, and K-Mart buys Sears for $11 billion. Call of the Mall is published, in which the acclaimed author of Why We Buy tells us all about The Geography of Shopping. Chapters Include: Major rivers, Mountain Ranges, Climate patterns and Capital cities.
Eris, the largest known dwarf planet in the solar system, is discovered in 2005 and Simon & Schuster names its new wing after Paco Underhill.
In 2006 Western Union discontinues use of its telegram service, and Kazakhstan launches its first space satellite. But the news is not all bad. Paco’s keynote speech at the Caterpillar Convention, “Tractor Lust”, electrifies the world of farm machinery.
The tomb of Herod the Great is discovered in 2007 and Paco Underhill is asked to comment on the prevalence of butt-brush in Roman Empire cemeteries.
In a year in which the Eyak language in Alaska becomes extinct as its last native speaker dies, and gold prices hit $1000 an ounce, and yet another dwarf planet is discovered, the revised edition of Why We Buy is a welcome respite. And yes, the world will never be the same again.
We are almost there. It is 2009 and the gamma ray burst GRB 090423 is observed for 10 seconds and determined to be the most distant and oldest known object in the universe. A Texas mother is hit by lightning while standing at her kitchen sink inside her Texas home. And Tiger Woods announces an indefinite leave from golf to focus on his marriage. Paco is putting the finishing touches on What Woman Want. If he spends much time in drag, we don’t know about it.
An Icelandic Volcano with the unpronounceable name (Eyjafjallajökull) erupted in 2010 and disrupted traffic all over the world. But nothing could stop the appearance of Paco Underhill’s latest must-have book, What Woman Want, the book that is famously not a sex manual. And so while you may not learn new positions to keep your spouse entertained, you will learn the important of curved shower curtain rods in hotel rooms.
All of which brings us to 2011, a year replete with natural disasters, political faux-pas, embarrassing sexual entanglements by people who should know better, Law & Order reruns, snow before Halloween, the apotheosis of the color orange and finally, just as the year is winding down, Paco’s 60th birthday.
Happy Birthday dear Paco and may you have many many more.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and the author takes no responsibility for mistakes, offenses, egregious lies, calumnies, ludicrous statements or typos.