Disclaimer: I own all the rights to the Toy Story movies; Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Productions do not own a thing; and you, my gentle reader, are Tom Hanks.

The whole thing started, I guess, in New York City, which my cousin Beth would say isn't surprising. "Everything starts in New York City!" she would say.

Understand, I'm not trying to deride her. Beth, as the unfolding of this story will show, is a wonderful, caring person and a delight to be with. That, however, does not change the fact that she's a little loopy on the subject of her hometown.

(True story: Once when I was at her house for her parents' fifteenth wedding anniversary, she spent the entire dinner trying to convince me that Thomas Edison was born in New York City. Then, later that evening, when I got out an encyclopedia and verified that he was actually born in Milan, Ohio, she merely sniffed and said, "Well, that's what they'd like us to think.")

But I'm not here to relate Beth's eccentricities. I'm here to tell a story, and that story, as I said, started in New York City, when my parents and I were walking down one of those New York streets with names you can never remember, because they don't have names, just numbers. You know – 34th Street, 92nd Street, 666th Street, and so on.

We were walking down this street, looking for one of the Italian restaurants that are everywhere in New York unless you're looking for one, when my mom grabbed my dad's arm and said, "Just a minute, Tom. Look at that!"

She was pointing to the wall of an old, derelict flower shop, where some severely disturbed individual had spray-painted a capital I, a vaguely symmetrical heart, and the letters XTC, in that order. In terms of intrinsic interest, it wasn't much different from the last twenty graffiti we'd passed, except that, in this one, there happened to be a gecko sitting in the middle of the heart.

Dad, who at this point in the journey was far more interested in finding a reliable source of fettuccini than in looking at geckoes, gave this one a cursory glance and said, "Yes, it's nice, isn't it? Now, come on, let's…"

"Nice?" said Mom. "It's perfect. The ultimate image of the ability of life to grow and flourish, even in the most diseased, corrupted corners of the earth."

Dad sighed. "Dana," he said, "now is really not the time…"

But Mom (who, I should mention, is a professional photographer of the "record the small moments in life, no matter where or when you find them" variety) had already pulled out her camera and adjusted the zoom lens, and before Dad could protest further, she clicked the shutter.

Nothing happened.

Mom blinked, shook the camera, and tried again. More nothing.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," Mom said. "It can't be water damage, it was working fine half an hour ago – and it can't be out of…" She glanced down at the film register. "It is out of film! How can that be? It was full when we arrived, and I've only used it four times…" She broke off and gave me a very suspicious look.

"It wasn't me, Mom," I said. "I know better than to mess with your cameras."

"As do I," said Dad.

Mom shook her head and shot a dirty look at the gecko, which, utterly oblivious to her distress, crawled out of the heart to look for a more reliable source of flies.

Mom sighed, and turned to glare at Dad and me. "Let me assure you both of one thing," she said. "First thing tomorrow morning, I will get my film developed. I will examine the resulting photographs carefully. And when I determine who is most likely to have taken said photographs, then will I wreak my revenge."

"Charmed," Dad said. "Oh, look, here's a place – Antonioni's. Shall we?"

"Fine with me," I said.

If I had known just what twists of fate were contained in that camera, Mom's threat might have made a little more impact on me. But, as it happened, I didn't.