The Truth, Mainly - 03/01/1993

Reform — hardest part is starting out
by Leon Satterfield

My wife and I don't talk politics much since the inauguration. She's been so taken in by Bill Clinton's radical reform propaganda that it's hard to carry on an intelligent conversation with her. For example, I'd like to have a calm little talk about his dirty, rotten socialistic plot to raise my taxes $20 a month.

"I'm for fairness," I say, "but why do our taxes have to go up?"

"It's the grandbabies, stupid," she says.

So how can we have rational discourse when she talks that way?

She's all for Hillary getting on with a plan for radical reform of health care too, even though I urge caution.

"There's no free lunch," I say. I like saying it so much I say it again. "There's no free lunch."

She rolls her eyes.


Just like she rolled her eyes 20 years ago when I urged caution on the radical reform of our kitchen. We bought the house because it was cheap—"a handy man's dream" the ad said. It was an old house and the previous occupants had let everything go all to hell.

"I don't know," my wife said when we looked at it. "The kitchen doesn't work."

She meant the cracks in the countertops were full of old bacon grease, the drain trap under the rust-stained porcelein sink was leaking, and the linoleum was curling off the floor despite the bubble gum and marinara sauce the old owners had tried to stick it down with. Some of the cabinet doors were warped open and some of them were stuck shut and my wife wasn't amused when I pointed out they worked pretty well on average.

"For this price," I said, "we can afford to fix it. We'll do it ourselves and save a bundle."

She wanted to do it right away. My idea was that first we needed a feasibility study, an environmental impact statement, and three contingency plans. Her idea was we should just pull the pin out of a live grenade, roll it into the kitchen, and go from there.

"We don't want to tear up anything useful," I said. "Waste not, want not."

So we talked about it for a year. By June I was still trying to decide which cabinets could be saved, which wads of bubblegum might still stick, and which summer school English majors I could draft to help with the carpentry.

That's when my wife gave me my Father's Day gift. She waited until the kids were in bed, then presented me with a six pack. She drank two and I drank three.

"Have another," she said. "It's Father's Day."

I had another. I was a little giddy when she brought out the second gift.

"What is it?" I asked. "What's it for?"

"It's a Super Bar," she said, pushing a high tech crowbar toward me, "and it's for radical reform of rotting constructs."

She hooked me by the belt with it and pulled me into the kitchen.

"See if it fits behind that cabinet," she said, handing me the Super Bar.

It did.

"See if you can pry it away from the wall," she said. "We can always put it back."

I pried. It moved a little. It felt good.

"I bet you can't pry it clear off," she said. "It looks pretty solid."

"I bet I by golly can," I said. I pried hard. It was solid. I belched and pried harder, then it came off all at once and disappeared in a great cloud of corruption that had been accumulating behind it since Woodrow Wilson's first term.

"Say 'Yee-haw,'" she said.

"Yee-haw," I said.

"Louder," she said.

"Yee-haw! " I yelled. I felt inevitable. I pried another cabinet off and it fell apart when it hit the floor. No way I'd ever get it back on the wall, but by then it didn't matter. I was in a frenzy of macho deconstruction.

Before I went to bed, I'd pried off the cabinets, ripped off the countertops, torn the linoleum off the floor, and jerked the sink off the wall. It looked like someone had pulled the pin on a live grenade and rolled it into the kitchen. It was glorious.

"This is easy," I said, up to my crotch in debris. "Look how much we got done in 45 minutes. It'll be a piece of cake."

"It's like bailing out of a burning airplane," she said. "The hard part's getting started."

It wasn't a piece of cake, but two months later, the radical reform of our kitchen was complete: Everything worked.

Now when I tell her that Bill and Hillary need to go slow on health care reform, that they need to be sure they aren't fixing something that's not broken, she hoots. That's a prescription for paralysis, she says. When I ask her, since she's so smart, just where they should begin, she says six packs have been high-return investments in the past and, in Washington this winter, Super Bars are finally on sale.


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

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