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The memory is a fascinating instrument -- especially when coupled with the elements of time and space. I can remember third grade with more clarity and precision than I can all of 2005, and third grade was 25 years ago. Perhaps in 25 years, 2005 will creep back into my long-term memory, but in 25 years, I’ll be 57, so it’s hard to say. Yet the memory has triggers. For instance, my grandmother still wears the same perfume as she did when I was in Miss Davis’s third-grade English class. Whenever I see my grandmother, that fragrance immediately brings me back to the summers spent with her and my grandfather in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in the early 1980s. I can recall with uncanny clarity mornings spent at Molly Pitcher Waffle Shop on South Main Street in Chambersburg.

Music is a trigger too. I’ve never been a huge Paula Abdul fan, which is to say I’ve never bought any of her albums. Still, I was a teenager in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so I lived through the period in American history when you couldn’t pull up to a stoplight without someone in the car next to you blasting “Cold Hearted .” I haven’t heard that song in more than a decade, but I pulled it up on YouTube .com while writing this column -- you know, for inspiration.

It worked. That song reminded me of studying for my SATs, which reminded me of all the diversions that were subconsciously employed to avoid studying for my SATs. Like Abby Michler.

She was my high school crush. Try as I might, I couldn’t get on her radar. We had a class together, but she was an upperclassman and only moved in those circles. At the Orange High School winter dance in 1992, I mustered up the courage to ask her to dance. I remember it being a particularly snowy night in Cleveland, and everyone had rosy cheeks from the cold. Rosy-cheeked Abby danced with me -- in front of all the upperclassmen -- to a slow song, “Rush, Rush” by Paula Abdul. Again, I never thought much of the song, but that is a fond memory of a bygone time.

The days since the Abdul radio era have turned to months, and the months have turned to years. I’m here, I don’t know where Abby is, and Paula has resurged once again as an international phenom. Say what you will about her continuous metamorphosis as a household name, but one point rings true in our cover story on page 30: Paula Abdul continues to be a trigger. Her name alone evokes some sort of passionate response. Love her? Hate her? Either way, it’s hard to be indifferent about her very public, very peculiar life. And this story is the most honest, most accurate account I’ve read of the pop diva.

I watched every single Paula Abdul video on YouTube.com before writing this column. The music still isn’t my particular brand of tea, but each and every song of hers triggers a pleasant memory of my old life. My old life helped me grow to understand that life throws curveballs. It’s as Paula said: “Here’s my story, and the story goes/ You give love, you get love/ And more than heaven knows/ You’re gonna see.”

I can already hear my phone ringing with calls from people from my old life who want to give me the business for quoting from a Paula Abdul song. Still, I admire the life she’s lived and the memories she’s given me, and for that, Paula is forever my girl. There. I said it.

The phone lines are open, but be careful what you say because in 25 years, I’ll remember our conversation.

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Adam Pitluk