The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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(July 11, 2008)

          I don’t know about you, but I’m rooting for a new Depression. Right, in addition to the one I wake up in. Complete with Box Car Willies and Hoovervilles (Cheneyvilles?) and Wall Street suicides. My old friend, Dick Partlow, wrote a couple weeks back: “What’s it going to take to turn this mess around? A new Depression to bring about a new FDR?”
          WPA? CCC? Nothing to fear but fear itself? Yowzah!
          But what of the suffering, the hobo jungles, the Martha Stewart recipes for Mulligan Stew, Hannah Montana prancing to “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum!” Well, hell, I say people would be better off cooking a can of beans over an open fire than emitting gas and cooking their brains in front of HDTV-pore-revealing episodes of “The Bachelorette.”
          I mean, Americans would get to know one another again, once they were dragged out of their cubies and home theaters, blinking in the sun like possums, and forced to roll pennies and shop together at the 99-Cent Store. (What, they already are?)
          Plus, there would be no more columns like the one I read in a recent issue of Westways Magazine by Peter Bohr.
          Now, I don’t know Pete, and he might be the kind of person who would push Oprah Winfrey out of the way of a Hummer at his own peril (well, perhaps that isn’t the most inspiring example, but you get the drift.) He might rescue orphaned baby birds and nurse them back to health with an eyedropper loaded with blended bug bouillabaisse. He might even know how to say “nuclear.”
          But based on his car column, “More Than Skin Deep,” I say Pete needs a bit of a change of scenery. He might benefit, for instance, by my standard prescribed fantasy therapy junket: to be dropped naked and heavily dosed up with LSD in a leper colony in Sri Lanka. With Madonna. Now there's a priority-shaker.
          Pete, you see, must be Bohred (sorry, you knew that was coming.) That's all I can figure. Judging by his column, he seems to have sought out highly arcane interests and gotten them all mixed up with living. This is a common enough American problem (I give you: NASCAR), but Pete has done it with an apparent total lack of awareness.
          How else to explain his column's opening sentence?
          “I bought a new Mini recently---cool!”
          This sentence just says so much. Perhaps Pete should be congratulated, instead of criticized, for conveying such quantity of information so telegraphically. He might have written, for example, “Like most U.S. citizens, I am a consuming machine who dutifully obeys marketing and demographic tyranny in the interests of becoming acceptable, if not enviable, to my peers---cool!” See what I mean? But that would sound so academic. Unlike Pete’s second sentence:
          “But then I set a cardboard box on the front fender for a few moments, picked it up, and was appalled to see tiny scratches in what had been my new car’s pristine, deep-blue paint. Bummer!”
            Welcome to the First Church of Fuck You Asshole You Dinged My Car. Or maybe the Loyal Brotherhood of The Fraternal I Am My Stuff, Local 209. Where is Don Ho when we need him? Tiiiiiny scratches. . .on my car. . .hurt the shine. . .I mean, Pete, Pete---tiny scratches on your car? What next---microscopic scratches? I fear for you in the coming Depression. It will be full of scratches.
          Well, to be somewhat fair here, the columnist's definition of "bummer" hardly makes him unusual. To not subscribe to automobile ethos today means you are wildly maladjusted, if not Anti-American. You know, like people who watch PBS (doo-wop reunion specials excepted.) Like me. I’m the freak, not Pete. I’m the guy who would be happy driving a rusty '51 Studebaker Commander converted to biodiesel. Very happy, in fact
          But Pete's astounding how-to-wash-your-car-in-the-21st-century column takes things to extremes I did not know existed. This man treats his car better than Cleopatra treated her skin. No milk baths here, but probably only because he hasn’t thought of it. If Pete found out that licking his car, inch-by-inch, once a week, would make it five percent shinier, I’m betting he’d be first in line for tongue yoga. I mean, if somebody advised Pete to take his Mini to the beach to give its hood a nice rosy glow, to dusts its haunches with peacock feathers blessed by Hindu priests in Bangalore, to take it to a Zen spa where it is given a nice loofah exfoliation followed by a facial composed of ginseng, dong quai, and clay straight from the Ganges---
           The over and under says he'd do it. Think I’m unduly harsh? After all, this is L.A., and if your car doesn’t pulse and glow like Schwarzenegger’s capped porcelain teeth, you’re a goddamn loser. But the above hyperbole isn't really so far off. Get this: Pete actually “clays” his car. What's more, he touts it:
          “The latest wrinkle in paint care is cleaning or detailing clay," he actually writes. "You simply rub it (along with a lubricant) over the surface of your car, and it does a remarkably good job of removing any contaminants bonded to the paint.”
           Dios Mio! Contaminants! Bonded to the paint? What sort of eco-terrorism can this be? Small wonder that one would need clay and lubricants, then, never mind that this sounds more like a night in West Hollywood than a few minutes at Spray-‘n’-Wash. Just what were these contaminants, I wondered? I read on, and discovered that not only were contaminants assaulting Pete’s Mini, but also. . .fallout. Fallout! Yow! Had he been driving in China? Parking near a stash of Yellowcake?
          “Airborne critters, from gnats to 747s, leave fallout on car paint,” the columnist explained. “Then there’s dust, tree sap, road grime, and acid rain. They don’t look very nice, and they etch or bond to the clear coat if left on too long. A once-weekly wash ritual is a good practice.”
          Acid rain. Yeah, it doesn't "look very nice" on your Mini. Never the fuck mind what it does to trees, flowers, birdies, fish, your lungs.
          You know, I want to react with more arch sarcasm here, but it would be silly(er) of me to do so. Extra-terrestrials long ago not only concluded that dogs and cats have strange sway over humans, given our apparent coveting of their street leavings, but E.T. has also correctly assumed that we ascribe deifying importance to automobiles. Car commercials, after all, represent some kind of epiphany of expression in all human history. Doubt it? The production values, the colors, the sounds, the jump-cuts and psychotropic razzle-dazzle is epileptic, I mean, epic. Show a commercial for a Toyota Tundra to a family from, say, 1520, and if they did not die of fear, they would certainly sprawl about the dirt floor of their thatched hut, supplicating and talking in tongues.
          It's small wonder, then, that Pete uses terms like “ritual” and “practice” in reference to his car, eh?  I mean, car wash? Car wash? Car worship. We have here an automotive exaltation that demands dealing with contaminants and fallout that etch and bond to paint. We must apply clay (don’t forget the essential lubricant) to remove them, and if you think that’s all there is to this ritual and practice, then you probably believe that Rosie O’Donnell is a woman.
          There were a bunch of italicized headings in Pete's concise, well-organized column, each introducing a paragraph detailing his prescribed procedure for making his Mini maxi-shiny. One bore the mildly onanistic title, Wash it---a lot, followed promptly by the arguably Buddhist admonition, Wash it right. It would be wrong of me to not share these remarkable excerpts from Wash it right:
          “Wash your car when the paint surface is cool and the car is in the shade.”
          (And preferably, when it is fully relaxed.)
          “Work from top to bottom, front to back, leaving the dirtiest things---the wheels---for last. (In fact, use a separate bucket of water and rags for the wheels.)”
          Now, Pete did not explain why a separate bucket and rags were advisable for the wheels, presumably because this is self-evident to Automotive-Americans. Still, given the ritual involved here, one must suspect deeper motivations at hand---metaphysical, perhaps, or at least egalitarian (which, in politically correct America, is practically metaphysical, anyhow.)
          And here---I swear to Germaine Greer and Simone De Beauvoir---is Pete's next instruction:
         “Be gentle.”
         Yes, dear. No rushing allowed, no crude stampede for that hood ornament. . .got to take time and gradually arouse the car before dousing it with lubricant and washing it a lot. . .Talk about auto eroticism. Wait! There's more: “Use only fluffy all-cotton towels (ooooooo, yeah. . .mmmmm) a chamois, or special microfiber towels to dry the finish.”
          Presumbly the car then lights up a Sherman.  
          Had enough of this stuff? I don't blame you. But it's really too Ameri-mazing to ignore. How is it that we live in a country where people fawn and slave over inanimate possessions while humans are routinely chopped up, raped, tortured, kidnapped, and even subjected to the Tavis Smiley show? Guess it just comes down to that endearing little quirk about our species: we don't really give much of a crap about anything outside of burritos, beer, sex, how to ease hemorrhoid suffering, and cars.
           Still, I must introduce this next bit of Pete’s column with a warning to the reader that it could drive him or her to promptly seek entertainment elsewhere, if not to never read The Rip Post again. Ready? As Peter Pan says, “Come on, everybody, here we goooooo.” The next step in Pete’s car-cleaning prescription. . .
          “Study it.”
          Yes, study it. Honest! He wrote this, I swear. Hey, why not just get a degree in it? Automotive Husbandry. And a minor in Hip Hop Studies (it really exists.) Move over, Jesus, here come the lunchtime workplace "Car Study" groups. Our Prius, which drives like heaven. . .Pete’s curriculum:
          “Look closely for minute scratches and swirls."
          (What was I saying earlier about a microscope?)
         "Just as important, feel the paint with your fingertips. It should be as smooth as glass. If you see scratches or if the surface feels gritty, you’ll have to take further action.”
          Yes, further action. Sounds like Rumsfeld. What further action, you ask? Well, Pete doesn't say. But my money is on dropping your pants and rubbing your bare buttocks over the gritty surface for that unique deep shine that can only be brought about by the oils and sweat of the human hindquarters.
          You'll be relieved to know that step six of Pete's column is simply “Polish it.” Phew. That sounds normal enough---but as you shrewdly suspect, polishing is not just polishing in Peteworld. As he warns: "‘Polish’ and ‘wax’ are not synonymous. . .Wax protects the clear coat with a barrier to keep nutrients in and contaminants out.”
          For those who have not fainted dead away, or who are just now being revived with deafening replays of Larry King Live, yes, you read that right: he said nutrients.
          Nutrients, folks. Nutrients!
          His car can eat!
          At blessed long last comes the final instruction in Pete Bohr's Westways Magazine (subscribe today!) car column:
         “Protect it.”
          Well, come on, now he's just filling space, right? Everyone knows this. People routinely fire great blasts of profanity at one another to prevent “dings” and dents---and once in a while, they just pull out guns and ding and dent each other to death like real men. And women. To protect the honor of their Navigators and Infinitis.
          Oh, wait.
          It turns out that what Pete really means by "protect" is to "apply wax or sealant two to four times a year," and I can think of nothing better to do with my time unless it involves cleaning showers with a toothbrush.
          I don’t know, I’m about out of gas here. This exercise just leaves me drained, stupefied. Mini-mized.
          But it's my problem, as I said. I’m the tricerotops from the days of hoses, rags, and a can of soft Kit wax on a Saturday morning when you feel a need for the satisfaction of honest physical labor. When you might crudely apply a little drippy touch-up paint on the chips and scratches, never expecting to fool anybody. Thanks to Pete, though, I now know that car paint has changed, and consists of primer, color coat, and clear coat, and clay and ritual. But this just leaves me wanting to grab my old coat and get the hell our of here, and head some place where people don't study their tiny scratches. Preferably in a rusting ’51 Studebaker Biodiesel Commander.
          Which ought to look damn good in the coming Depression.

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