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The Truth, Mainly - 10/24/1994

Voodoo economy lives, but Rabbit dies

Lots of people are making fun of the "Contract With America" that all those Republican congressional candidates signed in front of the Capitol earlier this month. The contract says if we elect them they'll reduce the deficit at the same time they cut taxes and increase spending for the Gipper's old Star Wars moneypit.

The White House calls it "Voodoo II" and says it's the same game we played in the Reagan-Bush years when the National Debt quadrupled.

But I don't make jokes about it. I like believing something so much you don't let facts get in the way.

For example, I'm still convinced I saved money by towing my '79 Rabbit home from Iowa. I scraped my shins and grated my knuckles and got sweat in my eyes. So I must have saved money. Don't confuse me with numbers.

I bought the Rabbit in the first place because it was vastly economical. It was a diesel and it was noisy and uncomfortable and stinky and hard to start in the cold, but it was the best car I ever owned. If I drove slow enough I could get more than 50 miles to the gallon.

There was a preternatural bond between me and the Rabbit. My wife said it reminded her of voodoo. Every year on my birthday, I'd take it out to see if I could match its miles per gallon with my pulse rate and my age. And every year I did. At 59, I had to drive 40 mph down Highway 6 with 23 cars and trucks honking behind me, but I got exactly 59 miles per gallon. And my pulse rate was going pocketa-pocketa at exactly 59 rpms.

My wife is too fact-haunted to understand, but I took it as a sign that my life and my vehicle were in cosmic harmony.

So I was a little reluctant to lend the Rabbit to My Son the Graduate Student in Iowa City when his Bug expired. He said I'd get it back before my 60th birthday last winter. But it quit running when cold weather came just before Christmas.

"The Rabbit died," my son said on the telephone. "The mechanic said it lost its compression and it's all shelled out. He said he'd give me $50 to part it out."

"My son, my son," I said, "what are they teaching in graduate school nowadays? He's trying to rip you off. He says it's shelled out just so you'll take $50 for it. Always get a second opinion. Hang on to it until warm weather and I'll tow the Rabbit home to Lincoln where I know an honest mechanic. It's the least I can do for the best car I ever had. And listen, don't feel guilty."

"Golly, it's hard not to," he said. "It's only got 169,000 miles on it."

So when it got hot enough at the end of August, I rented one of those triangular towing bars ($17.64) and drove my '76 Dodge pickup to Iowa City. By the time I got back, I'd bought three tanks of gas ($72. 93) and three pints of transmission fluid ($6.46) for the pickup. Hooking up the tow bar, I'd scraped my shins and grated my knuckles and got sweat in my eyes. But the Rabbit was back in Lincoln. I left it with my honest mechanic, said a few incantations, and waited.

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Two days later he called with the bad news.

"Your Rabbit's dead," he said. "It lost its compression and it's shelled out. I'll give you $100 to part it out."

I went into voodoo deprivation shock.

"If the Rabbit gets no more miles to the gallon, what's that going to do to my pulse rate?" I asked my wife. "Will I even have a 61st birthday?"

"Don't be silly," she said. "Take the $100 and let him part it out. That's more than we'll get when we part you out." Then she laughed.

So we took the title to my mechanic and signed away the best car I ever owned.

"You said you'd give me $100," I reminded him.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Let's see—you owe me $60 for the compression test, and $12 for the fuel filter we had to put on to see if it would start. That's $72 off the $100, so I owe you $28."

He wrote me a check and that night, I called my son.

"The Rabbit's dead," I said.

"Let me guess," he said. "It lost its compression and it's shelled out."

"Yes," I said. "But my honest mechanic gave me $100 to part it out. That's twice what you were going to get. Listen to your old dad and you'll save money."

"I wouldn't rush into it," he said. "Only $100 for the best car you ever owned? He's trying to rip you off. Why stop with a second opinion? There's that mechanic in Loveland you like. Why don't you tow it to Colorado?"

He's got a smart mouth. He got it from his mother.

"So let's see," she said, "you paid $73 for gas, $6 for transmission fluid, $17 for a tow bar. You towed it back to Lincoln where you got $22 less for it than if you'd left it in Iowa. And you scraped your shins and grated your knuckles and got sweat in your eyes. Why in the name of your penurious soul did you do all that?"

"To save money," I said. "Dammit, to save money."

So don't expect me to make fun of Republicans who want to cut taxes, increase defense spending, and thereby get out of debt. Like Dorothy and Toto and the Gipper, I know if you believe hard enough, what you want to happen just happens. It just does. And to hell with numbers.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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