Spent a few minutes down at the service station recently, yelling at the gas attendant on the ladder to drop prices, not raise them. He had the big sans-serif letters out, and it was up to him, really, which way the American economy was heading – in favor of the working stiff, or at his or her expense.
Far as I can tell, that’s how the economy functions these days: on the whims of a few powerful part-timers, standing on ladders and holding the keys to my immediate future.
“More! More! More!” I shouted when the attendant dropped the price to $2.99. “More!!!!”
“Who’s that?” a customer asked of me.
“The town scarecrow,” the station owner explained.
That’s the thanks I get. I am here to ward off conventional thinking, to fight failure and fatigue. Since Thomas Paine, there have been insufferable pains like me unwilling to accept the status quo.
I warned the station owner, a rabid Packer fan by way of Lebanon, that I wasn’t leaving till the gas price hit a buck and a half. Poor guy. Imagine me in front of your business with a bullhorn and wearing my tired Top-Siders, cargo shorts that just hang on me, a Boz Scaggs T-shirt from 1983.
Perhaps that’s how revolutions begin.
I think I’d be the perfect revolutionary. I already have experience as a martyr, still financing three of four kids. When I complain, my wife suggests that I think of the kids as Vermeer and myself as one of the wealthy Delft merchants who supported him.
Yet lately I seem incapable of sustaining a single thought much past 200 words. This may work in my favor, for an appreciation of dogma is an important trait in someone out to change the world. From what I’ve read, the world doesn’t change itself.
Scary times, right? Each Saturday, I sit down with the bills and my digital abacus to figure out how much we’re going to come up short till the next pay period. The answer: a lot.
Inevitably, we’re now always a little strapped until the next paycheck. Always thought that at this stage in our lives we’d be better off, more secure. Let me just say that when I’m president, I’ll force companies to pay wages twice daily – once at lunch and again when everyone leaves work nine hours later.
By the way, the bullhorn I’m using at the gas station comes courtesy of the little guy, who brought it home one day after winning some magazine fundraiser at school. It worked like this: His mother subsidized his magazine sales to such a degree that he qualified for a series of special rewards.
The first day, he brought home a $100 bill. Seriously. Me, I’d never seen an actual $100 bill before, so I asked him to let me hold it. The bill seemed to generate its own heat. The only thing I can compare it to is when a former NFL lineman let me wear his Super Bowl ring on an elevator in Milwaukee.
“Can I have it back now?” the little guy finally asked.
We think of educational institutions as riven with simony and shortage, yet each day the little guy brings home a different prize he won with his magazine sales. One day, it was a bundle of stuffed toy puppies, which we now feed to the 300-pound beagle like oats.
Another day, he brought home a giant green cardboard cutout of the Incredible Hulk, which the dog barked at for two days, probably thinking Grandma was back.
Apparently, this is how they teach capitalism in the schools now. They recruit the kids at a tender age, woo them with prizes and $100 bills before they can think clearly for themselves about whether they want to be part of such a warped, Willy Loman system.
By ninth grade, they’re running a huge equity fund.
Finally, the little guy brought home this rather sophisticated, battery-operated bullhorn, the kind with a woop-woop siren and a speaker that makes him sound like a highway patrolman barking orders through a conch shell.
“Step away from the car, lady!” the little guy yells out the front window when his mother arrives home after a long day.
“Better frisk her,” I warn him.
“Get your hands up high where I can see ’em!” he yells through the bullhorn. “Now walk slowly toward your wine.”
For the record, the little guy’s grounded now. We expect to see him in maybe 14 years.