The past is a vast attic -- the dusty toy, the old album, the forgotten fury, must mixing with desire.

Some experiences glow all the brighter for being gone. Youth is like that. Years take away the gawky pain, leave only the sweet taste of first times.

Other moments are so bitter that no number of years will dull the sorrow. "If you want to keep the beer REAL cold," moans a country and western song, "put it right next to my ex-wife's heart."

But we are more faithful than we know to the things we leave behind, to the spent emotions, the discounted dreams, to the fears we've fought and the lovers we've left. Here then are a few tales of former times, ornaments from the attic, shadows of the future.

I used to have a '68 VW named Brunhilda which gasped like a Norwegian fishing trawler and held 12 years worth of Big Mac wrappers, petrified fries, soda bottles and Madison National Bank canceled checks. Brun's brakes required the pumping of a church organ, and the ashtray overflowed onto a pile of chains, kept on the floormat in case of a snow emergency.

I loved her.

But a significant friend, appalled by this frightening apparition, demanded that I purchase a healthier conveyance. I chose a Honda, '78, silver, tag number 518-671.

Six digits to my name, for better or worse, till death do us part, transcribed in the annals of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Minnow without a Heart, as she was called because of her stinking gas mileage and her proclivity for dents. She was the twin of my colleague's Honda, which was named Pinkie and got stinking gas mileage, too.

As it turned out, Pinkie was enough for both of us, and so Minnow was sold to a young woman who lives in a Maryland suburb with her two small kids. The tag, number 518-671, went with the Minnow.

Next thing you know, the Bureau of Adjudication and Public Welfare is dunning me for a couple of hundred bucks. I explain I sold the car a year back. So I call the woman with the kids who forgot to change the tag and got a couple of hundred bucks worth of tickets. She said she'd pay the tickets, which she did, and she'd change the tag and we never heard from each other again.

The other night, I was interrupted by a knock at the door. Two blond guys with mustaches and wearing jeans in that awkward stage (between too blue and not blue enough) stood upon the stoop beside the begonias.

"is Rita Kempley there?"

"Who wants to know?"

"Prince Georges County Police. It's about an armed robbery."

A small silver Nova -- close enough -- with D.C. tag number 518-671 had allegedly been involved in knocking off something or other the Friday night before. Thank heavens I was in Ocean City.

(As it turned out, D.C.'s House of Tags had number 518-671 registered to me at a prior address. The officers had staked out my old apartment for four days, waiting for the alleged perpetrator, a 160-pound male, with a bald head, lumpy face and one earring. He didn't show. I didn't show either so they checked at the desk, where they learned I'd moved a block away.)

So I explain how Minnow moved to PG County with this woman and her kids.

I called the woman and asked, "So how are you and how 'bout those tags? . . . You changed 'em? Gave 'em to Merv?"

"Merv has the tags," I say to Starsky and Starsky.

So I say goodbye and ask them to destroy the tags with alacrity, which they'll do, they say, if possible.

Time passes.

The phone rings.

It is Detective Homer Pibbs of the PG County Robbery Squad calling to find out if I had a silver Honda with tag 518-671.

"I explained all that to Starsky; and Starsky," I say, voice raising.

It's just that when there's a number and it gets affixed to your name, it becomes part of you. Old checking accounts, other people's checking accounts that are sort of close and they get your deposits, and your social security number and your college ID number and your tag number.

People used to worry that they'd be given a number and called it for life. I have seen the future and this is it. Call me 518-671.