"What it is," I tell my wife, "is a dirty rotten shame. That's what it is."
I've just come back from filling the car with gasˇat a dollar and a half a gallon. I'm near tears.
"Let me guess," she says, not even looking up from her crossword puzzle. "You've just come back from filling the car with gasˇand you're near tears."
"Twenty-two dollars and fifty cents," I croak, trying not to choke up, "for fifteen lousy gallons. Of regular."
"There, there," she says. "It's not so bad. The American Petroleum Institute says that 1920 gas would have cost $2.47 a gallon in current dollars."
"I don't care about 1920 gas," I say. "Everything was all screwed up in 1920. We were still reeling from the Black Sox scandal. No wonder gas was so high."
"Of course," she says. "What's a two-word, eleven-letter Latin term meaning a comment marked by a lack of relevance to what has preceded it?"
She can't stick to the subject for diddly-squat.
"I can remember," I say, "when we'd fill our Rabbit diesel for six dollars and drive it 600 miles before we had to fill it again. A penny a mile it cost, and I was still in my forties. O! O! Where are the rosebuds of yesteryear?"
I begin to blubber.
"You're beginning to blubber," she says. "You're beginning to blubber all over my crossword puzzle. Stop it or I'll run away with the postman."
"I wonder," I say, "how much it costs to fill the tank on those little mail rigs that postmen drive. I bet they get good gas mileage even stopping and starting as often as they have to stop and start. And I bet the P.O. doesn't have to pay a buck and a half a gallon."
"You," she says, putting down her puzzle, "are a loony. You are the worst kind of loony. You are a loony obsessed with gasoline mileage and gasoline prices. Get a life."
"Begging your pardon, m'love," I say. "You're wrong. I'm obsessed with keeping intact our little nest egg for you to sit on after I'm gone from this vale of tears. Mock me if you want, but it's your future security that motivates my looniness. I'm trying to defend you from the rapacity of oil barons.
"What oil barons?" she says.
"What oil barons indeed!" I say. "Those very rascals that Sen. John McCain calls George W. Bush's 'sleazy Texas buddies' who finance his sleazy campaign with their sleazy lucre. That's who."
"Aha!" she says. "So now it comes to the surface. You're upset not only because higher gas prices wither up your penurious psyche, but also because you believe the obscene profits therefrom are going to support George W. Bush in his quest for the presidency."
"Arghh," I say, clutching my chest. "'Tis true! 'Tis true! All is out!"
The Truth, Mainly
"And why," she says, "does the idea of George W. as president send you into such agonies?"
"I cannot stand looking at the man," I cry. "I cannot stand what Gail Collins of the NY Times calls 'the smirk, the nervously darting eyes, that trapped look that always makes Mr. Bush resemble a small mammal in distress.'"
"Oooh," she says, "that is unpleasant. But might there be less sinister reasons for the increase in the price of your gasoline?"
"Fat chance," I say. "Like what?"
"Like," she says, "the fact that OPEC oil is over $33 a barrel now, three times what it was a year ago? Or the fact that we are beginning to catch up with European gasoline prices: $3.70 a gallon in Belgium, $4 a gallon in France, $3.73 a gallon in Germany, $3.93 a gallon in Italy, $4.31 a gallon in the Netherlands, $4.69 a gallon in the UK?"
"I don't care about any of that," I say. "I just want my gas prices to be between 31.9 and 34.9 cents a gallonˇthe way they're supposed to be. The way they were before George W.'s sleazy Texas buddies began robbing us so they could give more of their sleazy Texas money to elect George W. "
"Look," she says, "there's no evidence that George W.'s sleazy Texas buddies have anything to do with the price rise. And even if they did, the last time you could get your gas for 34.9 cents a gallon was back in 1969 and according to NWU econ prof Loretta Fairchild, inflation has increased by a factor of about five since then. So, she says, what cost 35 cents in 1969 should cost $1.75 now."
"Hah?" I say.
"And remember," she says, "what your old buddy Thoreau said: 'the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it.' In today's dollars, you had to exchange $1.75 of your life for a gallon of gas in 1969. It's a quarter cheaper now. Doesn't that make you feel all better?"
"Play fair," I whimper. "I'm the one who gets to quote Thoreau."
And then I blubber all over her crossword puzzle.
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.