Here at the Big Empire, we aren't the types of Internet celebrities that like to keep to ourselves. We like to get out of our decadently posh offices and see what's happening on the streets. That's why we hired a publicist to set up public appearances for us. It gives us a chance to shake hands with the people that make the World's Only Web Site "America's Most Popular Web Site." Stinky and I knew we wouldn't start at the top of the public appearance heap, appearing side by side with Colin Powell at parades, and discussing marriage counseling seminars with John Davidson on informercials. But, we were willing to work our way up.

Imagine our surprise and delight when our first public appearance opportunity was for a Safeway supermarket grand opening in Muncie, Indiana! Appearances at supermarket openings are usually reserved for American royalty, like the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, Mr. Whipple and Twinkie the Kid. You can imagine how honored we felt to be in such rarefied company. But we were a little nervous, too, because neither of us gives away free hot dogs, surreptitiously squeezes toilet paper or lassos renegade Ding-Dongs. Then, there were the whispered rumors that Bob Denver might stop by.

Butterflies in our stomachs, we boarded the Greyhound bus with our gear. And we were off, across the flat expanse of America's Great Plains, and toward the Hoosier State. Stinky kept putting his hand on my side of the seat and I got to punch him every time he did, so the trip went quickly for me.

I was the first person to see Muncie from the bus because I was standing up front with the driver, asking him how much buses cost. If you've never been to any medium-sized Midwestern city in United States, you've never been to Muncie. The streets are laid out in a grid, with stores, houses and offices in all the appropriate places. The model airplane museum sits on the outskirts, near the real airport. Ball State University, with its liberal students, crouches ready to burst into rebellion on the sleepy burg's western edge.

Smack dab in the middle, between Hostetler Road and Corrigan Avenue, was the Safeway, new and shiny. Red, white and blue streamers and balloons bounced in the light wind, and a small crowd jockeyed to be among the first inside the new store. Parked in the corner, and attracting a good number of children, was the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Its dark red frankfurter body glistened in the sun. We were in awe.

Stinky and I set down our equipment and walked over to two men and a woman in goofy costumes. They were handing out hot dogs and plastic wiener-rings. Feeling a camaraderie with the other celebrities, we introduced ourselves to them.

"Great, bring us some more mustard and napkins." ordered the woman. I politely explained that we didn't work at the Safeway.

"What do you do then?" asked the older man, looking down his nose.

"We entertain people, just like you." Stinky replied with Big Empire enthusiasm.

All three of the wiener people laughed, and the woman said, "I don't see a funny car or costumes."

Well, Stinky is pretty sensitive and I could see that he was about to turn on the faucets. I put my arm around my friend and pulled him away so the others wouldn't see him cry. I hissed back at those nasty Oscar Mayer people, "Shame on you! I wouldn't buy your bologna if it was the last processed meat on earth."

As Stinky's sobbing subsided into shudders, I grabbed our gear and told him that we'd show those jerks. We'd be the best celebrities that Muncie ever saw. This cheered him up, and we marched right into that supermarket. We strutted past the signup table for the Safeway Club Card, past the express aisle and by the delicious looking salad bar. We greeted the manager, Pete Feldt, who was harried with last minute details.

"We're here," I announced.

"Who are you?" Pete asked. We explained that we were representing the Big Empire and asked where he'd like us to set up. Set up what? he wanted to know. The computers, Stinky said, and we'll need a phone line.

Pete, obviously not "net savvy," didn't understand. He wanted to know why we needed a phone line and what we would do with the computers. "You aren't going to change the prices on my fruits and vegetables, are you?" Well, we all had a good laugh about that. And then we told him how we planned to create "web pages" right in front of his customers eyes. We would code HTML as Muncie's Lady Kiwanis looked on in awe. We even offered to throw in a few javascripts for free.

"Well," Pete thought long and hard, "we don't really have any phone lines on the floor, but you can use the one in the store room." He led us off the retail floor and back behind the dairy cases.

Now, Stinky and I don't like to complain, but it kind of defeated the purpose of the public appearance to stash us out of sight. Pete snapped his fingers and smiled. He took a big piece of cardboard from a banana crate and wrote "SOME GUYS DOING HTML" and drew an arrow with a big Magic Marker. It looked great! Pete set it outside, right next to the yogurt, and Stinky and I got down to the task of setting up our computers.

In no time, we were "online" and surfing the web. An elderly man looking for the bathroom stoppped by and we showed him how to get weather forecasts. The stockboys were really interested in pictures of swimsuit models. Best of all, though, we learned how to rotate dairy products to insure that the first to expire are nearest the customers. Those Oscar Mayer losers could keep their sunlight and outdoors because we had the Internet and the interest of some very curious grocery shoppers.

Even though Bob Denver never stopped by, Stinky and I really enjoyed our first public appearance. It wasn't our last either. Our publicist just called and said we've got a gig selling "Magic Mops" in the vendor tent at the Madison County, Wisconsin Winter Harvest Festival. And this time THEY might be paying US.

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