Archive for December, 2006

US of A


Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman and the head of the company’s global product development team, said the proposed changes to the government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards would represent an unfair burden on the traditional Big Three automakers.

He added: “That effectively hands the truck and SUV market over to the imports, particularly the Japanese, who have earned years of accumulated credits from their fleets of formerly very small cars.”

Lutz, a long-time critic of government fuel economy regulations, compared the attempt to force carmakers to sell smaller vehicles to “fighting the nation’s obesity problem by forcing clothing manufacturers to sell garments only in small sizes.” [emphasis added]

Dear Mr. Lutz:

I want to thank you, first of all, for helping to raise public awareness of an issue which has been—literally—a pain in my butt for quite some time.

I went for a ride in a Japanese car today. It was a Honda, actually. And it’s tantalizingly cheap. Its owner loves how it gets close to thirty miles per gallon, and how cheap it was to buy. But he looks the other way when I try to get in and out, and I, having been reared with good manners, am too polite to complain.

It’s awful. The car is just too damn small! I start by opening the door. Even that’s hard. With that dinky little handle, it’s damn near impossible for a fellow to fit more than a finger through it. Pulling a door open with one finger is just asking for a sprain. But the real pain is yet to come.

Once the door’s open, I turn sideways to it. I’ve learned through hard, hard experience that there’s no way both cheeks are going in at once. No. Getting them in takes careful planning and true grit.

The first buttock is easy—a good fit for the half-assed door. Next comes a turn. We’re crack-to-doorjamb now, and starting to get a little sweaty, but the worst awaits.

Bringing in the second buttock requires ducking the head. Ducking the head means leaning forward and squashing the gut. And that head also has to skootch forward and collide with the door pillar if that buttock is going to have any room at all. When it slides in at last, it’s a straining, bruising affair.

I’ve learned not to suffer in silence. We can endure anything in this country, but that doesn’t mean we need to be quiet about it. Singing helps me. Not only does it give me a rhythm to time my pushes, it also restores some of the patriotism I sacrifice when I climb into one of these little crap-cans.

“A-MERRRica, A-MERRRica, God SHED his GRACE on THEE.” A couple of verses like this and I’m usually through. “And CROWN thy GOOD with BROther HOOD from SEA to SHIN—ah that’s it.”

As Arab terrorists continue to threaten our freedom and extort us with their oil prices, we can only expect more of these indignities. Nobody likes this kind of suffering, but the Japanese know they have us over a barrel (literally!) and, painful as it is, we can’t afford not to buy their cruelly-undersized cars.

I applaud you for your statement. Never in a million years would the government try to make us thinner by forcing us to buy smaller clothes, and they shouldn’t force smaller cars on us either. We Americans are the greatest race ever to walk the earth, and great as we are in size, we are even greater in our accomplishments. It takes big cars—and big clothes—to hold all that.

Any sensible regulator can see that reducing CAFE standards would not only fail, it would violate our human rights. Let’s instead focus on LATTE: Letting Americans Triumph over Terrorist Efficiency-mavens. God bless you, and may God continue to bless America and the greatness of her people.

reality show

“I’ve never been in Reba’s house,” I say, pushing a branch out of the way.

“The inside is a lot like the outside,” says Kim, stepping over a toppled flamingo.

Reba greets us at the door. Oddly enough, the the house itself is outwardly plain, and its interior is open, sparely finished with a second-story loft. Reba built it herself.

“Look at all the fish!” I say, rhetorically. There are a lot of fish.

“Oh come have the tour!” says Reba.

We start at the nearest tank. (There are three.) Reba points out Ellen, Barbara, Kathleen, all now several years old. She points out Kim, who is tiny.

“The old me is in the freezer,” says Kim. “We’re waiting til the ground thaws.”

Reba also points out Reba, five inches long, with glorious wisps of white and orange fins.

If you haven’t figured it out, Reba’s fish are named for herself and her friends. I have figured it out now, but it took a while. For instance, a few weeks ago we were having dinner at Kim’s house when Reba said:

“Oh, Kim! Guess who got to swim in the BIG tank today!”

“Me me meeeeeee!” said Kim, raising her arms in triumph.

“YES!” said Reba.

To the uninformed, such exchanges are puzzling.

The only male in the tank is Wilbur, whom I wouldn’t mention except he’s the only fish I’ve seen who waddles. I would say he has chubby apple-cheeks, except they’re yellow and blue, not rosy. When he swims, his tail swings one way, and his head—cheeks and all—bends in the other direction. The ferryboat captain gave him to Reba because he wanted to swim in the tank with the ladies.

Fish aren’t the only decoration though. Cardinal-shaped Christmas lights festoon a tree in the corner. The numbers on the kitchen clock have lost their grip and lie heaped at the bottom of the dial. But the flamingos are winning.

They’re not obvious at first. You notice them in the yard, but they’re mixed in with driftwood, lobster buoys, and convoys of plastic dump trucks. Inside, they’re not immediately obvious either.

We were sitting at Reba’s kitchen table, by the window. Ever since CBS started airing “Survivor”, Reba and Kim have had dinner every Thursday night and watched it. Since I moved next-door to Kim, I’ve been invited too. Both are in their mid-fifties; both commute to the city for work. Normally, Kim (a cooking fanatic) makes dinner, but since she’s about to leave for a family reunion, it’s Reba’s turn.

“Did you see this?” Kim asks me, lifting a finger-sized flamingo-candle off the windowsill.

“Oh…there are kind of a lot of them,” Reba admits.

“There’s a BIG one down there!” Kim splutters, pointing. Behind the sofa stands a four-foot high flamingo, made of neon tubing.

“That used to light up,” explains Reba. “Something happened.”

As the evening progresses, I see more. A beanbag-flamingo hangs lugubriously from the upstairs banister. A functional neon flamingo comes on behind me, glowing hot pink. I see flamingos on the upholstery, the refrigerator, the plates, the lamps…

After dinner we move to the TV. The prefatory sounds of “Survivor” drown out the hum of fish-tank bubblers. Swimming in their tanks, the fish seem unperturbed. Wilbur waddles through another orbit of the plant. Reba remains stationary, fluttering her wispy fins, her mouth open, watching the humans as they debate which of the remaining characters deserves to be voted off this time.

laundry list

WASHINGMACHINE, Dec. 7 — The bipartisan Laundry Study Group today delivered its long-awaited report to the Robinson administration. Declaring that a “stay-the-course policy is no longer viable,” and advocating sweeping changes to the government’s policy toward laundry, the report concluded several weeks of speculation and judicious sock-sniffing.

Chaired by a sweater and a sport coat, the committee held a press conference in one corner of the bedroom floor. Among the other conclusions they outlined were a need for laundry to take more initiative in its self-governance, and a need for multilateral involvement by neighboring groups, specifically the dresser and the laundry basket.

The Robinson administration reacted with caution to the findings, agreeing with the thrust of the report but saying that a rushed withdrawal of laundry from the bedroom could result in over-extension of the nation’s muscular resources, crowding of national washing facilities, and general fatigue. Administration officials have suggested recently that a phased withdrawal could begin no sooner than next week, possibly not even then.

The sweater and the sport-coat were selected to lead the committee because their exemption from machine-washing gave them a neutral stance on the issue. In fact, the sport-coat actually has to be dry-cleaned. The administration praised the efforts of the two, saying that “the grime-resistance and tough woolen fibers of these two garments stand as a model for future bipartisan leadership.”

Critics of the administration suggested that it hoped to sweep the committee’s report under the carpet, or at least partway under the bed.

“This whole laundry situation is starting to smell bad to me,” said Vacuum Cleaner, an analyst with the Institute for Advanced Tidying. He added, “I think that if the administration continues to ignore it now, they will regret doing so in the future,” and went on to say that the entire laundry conflict was nothing but a war for soil.

Conservative pundits disagreed. Speaking on the Lush Grimebaugh show, noted right-wing evangelical Torn Again suggested that dirt and wear are the manifest destiny of laundry and the administration should redouble its laundry-making efforts, increasing laundry presence five-fold in the coming months.

The dryer and the clothesline are also set to release reports on the situation within the next few weeks. The Robinson administration has said it will weigh all options carefully before deciding which one to support.

the beerable lightness of being

Pull the choke out. Grab the throttle. Pull the cord. Pull the cord. Pull, pull, pull the cord.

“You wouldn’t know I have a hernia,” he says.

Pull, pull, pull the, Pull, pull, pull pull pull waaa waaaaaaaaaaahhh aaah aaah aaah aah aaah, waaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH…

It has cooled off considerably. The wind is still strong out of the Northwest. We have about half an hour of daylight to go. The sky has turned yellow; the waves on the bay are translucent green.

He’s giving me a ride home, since I don’t have a car, and since I was helping him do something at the other end of the island. But first a neighbor has asked him to cut up a tree that blew across the driveway last night. There are no one-stop trips.

Besides overseeing everything I do, and overseeing all the maps and tax assessments and affordable housing projects and shellfish beds in the town, he does anything that involves small, gasoline-powered outdoor equipment, such as lawnmowers, chainsaws, snowblowers, weedwhackers, leafblowers, and so forth. Today it’s chainsaws.

But only chainsaws. In other words, no helmet, no facemask, no gloves, no leg-chaps—none of the safety equipment sane people use when chainsawing.

I move segments of trees out of the way as they become available, keeping a safe distance from the blade. Despite my premonitions, the chainsaw does not jump or skid out of his hands; it does not buck up into his face and deliver a hemispherical lobotomy; it does not go for the ankles and spray the ground with gore. The job is done in minutes.

“Fifty bucks,” he says. Silly rich person, not to own a chainsaw. We return to the truck and climb in.

“Wait a minute,” he says. “Hop out for a second and pull the seat forward.”

“I need a beer,” he explains. A beer from the bag of beers beneath my seat.

“It’s actually a really nice time of year,” he says. “It’s cold enough that you don’t have to worry about keeping them cold, but it’s not so cold you have to worry about them freezing. All you need’s a plastic bag.”

We drive off, beers in hand. It feels like watching a football game, but instead of a couch there’s the seat of a truck; instead of a game there’s a road. We roll through it at twenty miles an hour, into the night.