Annie In My Life

The following column was published (in The Boise Weekly) on May 9, 1996. It was my second attempt to combine home life and current affairs into a coherent opinion. The first attempt barely mentioned my daughter—one or two lines, at most—and since this “book” is primarily a chronicle of her and me growing up together, I’ve skipped over it for this series and will probably drop it entirely from the line-up.

I warned you that any current affairs—national, state, social, entertainment … whatever—addressed in these chapters will be dated, and are not the reason I have assembled them within this collection. With that said, don’t be surprised if issues we were dealing with two decades ago sound unnervingly like issues we are dealing with today. For instance, that column I just talked about—the one I will probably drop from Annie In My Life, discussed Idaho politicians’ inclination to shave money off of school budgets, while at the same time increasing funding to prisons, ignoring the reality that education is proven to be one of the most effective remedies to chronic criminality. It was printed in February of 1996, but if I were writing on that same subject today, I would likely make the same arguments and use many of the same statements.      

Another thing: Back in those days, the editor would, as often as not, change the title I’d put on the piece. And, more often than not, I hated the change. But like it or not, it was the prerogative of the boss, and I went along—no matter how dumb and clunky I thought the boss’s title might be. This one, “Doling Out the Gas” is decidedly dumb and clunky. But I can’t remember what I called it at the time, and am somewhat torn as to whether I should change anything, especially the title, from the way it was published. So for the time being, until I stop tripping over my own ambiguity, I will leave it as is, and as it was.

p.s. If I were to re-title it, it would be something like “Squeezed.”

Chapter One:

Doling Out the Gas

          My wife had a baby about six and a half years ago. I was there. For everything. Yikes!

          After that, I can’t feel entitled to claim equal share in my child. If I’d had my ears pierced with a posthole digger to commemorate the birth, or maybe been given a prostate exam by Godzilla, then maybe I could say she was half mine, but after witnessing the delivery, I think my wife gave just a little bit more than I did. Instead of a 50-50 split, it’s more of a 49-51 … maybe even 48-52.

          Anyway, we went for a drive last weekend with our daughter sitting in the middle. In the last six and a half years, we’ve taken plenty of drives, and our daughter was almost always sitting in the middle, except for those times when she felt like sitting in the back, or on top, or squinched up on the floor boards, or hanging her head out the window like a cocker spaniel until we threaten her with lasting psychological harm unless she gets her seat belt on and sits still like a little lady oughta. The difference about this drive is that we drove to Ketchum. And back.

This will be hard for you four-wheelin’, back-packin’, snow-boardin’, kay-yakin’ Idahoans to understand, but this was the first road trip out of the Boise Valley we’ve taken for a while. About six and a half years. The farthest we’d ever previously driven with our daughter sitting in the middle was from Meridian to the Broadway exit. It’s possible she was along on that trip to Caldwell, but I doubt it. If memory serves, that was one of the times we found a baby sitter who could be trusted to recognize fire when she saw it. (We once came home to find our geologically-minded little girl, along with two neighborhood toddlers who were coincidentally also geologically-minded, carrying handfuls of pea gravel and road mix into the bathroom, where they had just about completed their mission of determining just how much pea gravel and road mix a plumbing fixture can hold. All of this experimentation was happening within six feet of our baby sitter, who obviously was so MTV-deprived she could not take her eyes from the teevee screen long enough to realize that three small children whose combined ages didn’t add up to double digits were about to bring Meridian’s sewer system to an end.)

          You see, most other people my age had their kids back in their 20s or early 30s and are now watching their progeny graduate—or not—from high school. I got a late start off the production line, so most of this little kid stuff is a surprise to me. Sure, I’ve heard other people talk about it, and I know other writers have written about it, but I thought they were making it all up. And that includes what it’s like to watch a birth from up close or to have a kid sitting in the middle on a long trip. But I’m not griping. It was my choice. I won a vasectomy in a card game once, and never cashed in.

          In spite of willfully putting myself next to a child for seven hours in a confined space with no room for a toilet or a trampoline, an even greater mistake in taking my first drive outside the Boise Valley in six and a half years was that I did it just after the oil companies decided they needed a little extra pocket change. To some extent, I sympathize. Mother’s day is coming up, you know. If you’ve priced a corsage lately, you’ll know what I mean.

          I, of course, can’t know how Exxon, Texaco, Conoco, and the rest came to a common, and sudden, agreement that they weren’t already making enough money. Surely, they can’t all belong to the same Kiwana’s Club, can they? Or did they all happen to pick the same Big Boy for lunch one day, and talked it over while picking through the salad bar? Maybe Misters Exxon, Texaco, and Conoco were all embarrassed because between them, they couldn’t come up with a decent tip. However it happened, I couldn’t know. I don’t hang in those circles. I don’t have a drop of oil to my name. On occasion, I do produce gas, but it’s not for sale.

So if these fuel geniuses are tight enough with each other to raise gas prices by 30% with such lock-step precision that the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes should be ashamed, you’d think that sometime over the last several months, one of them would have confided to the others that he was running short of crude.

          “Yew, too? Wull, by golly, so’m I! Them nasty winter storms up East just ‘but drained mah tanks. What we gonna do ’bout it, fellers?”

“Dunno. But ah think I’ll wait fer spring an’ then jack up prices. Sooner ‘r later, that Cope guy’s gotta leave the Boise Valley, so let’s stick it to ‘im good when he does. What d’ya say?”

At least that’s the way it looked to me.

* * *

I was still able to afford to get to Ketchum. And back. It’s not like gas costs as much as caviar or corsages or Jackie O’s ear swabs. It’s not like I thought I’d have to make my daughter give up food over the weekend in order to make it all the way there. And back. But for what I spent on fuel, I could have bought a seat on a 707 to Seattle not very long ago. (I hope those airline guys aren’t scrimping on the octane.)

It’s too bad that I didn’t wait to make the trip to Ketchum after Bob Dole gets that four-something-cent gas tax repealed. Dole—known in the rapidly expanding cynical-wing of the Republican Party as “The Best We Can Do Given The Fact That We Didn’t Have Much To Start With”—has noticed that gas prices have climbed almost as steeply as his blood pressure does whenever Pat Buchanan swaggers into the room, so he’s trying to do something about it. If you think it’s rough buying gas to make the daily commute, try running for President. Those campaign whistle stops add another dimension to “stop and go” traffic. It’s like being stuck on the Cole-Overland Exchange for a year —you can see where you want to be, if only you could just get there. If only … if only.

          It’s important we don’t forget that Dole still holds a pretty important position in the Senate, and he’s certain that if he rescinds that four-something-cents gas tax the Democrats foisted off on us three years ago, it’ll make things all better. You can tell he’s serious. He hasn’t smiled once since he started talking about it.

Two months ago I was paying $1.26 (with a teensy “9” after it) for a gallon of Super Unleaded (because my mechanic told me my car would run better if I put the most expensive gas I could find in it, but I now have reason to believe he’s owned Exxon stock from the very beginning and that he’s really an ex-oil tanker captain who used to work out of Alaska but has been given a new identity by the Witness Relocation Program so the sea otter mob can’t find him) and now I’m paying up to $1.60 (with a teensy “9” after it) a gallon and I buy the stuff at convenience markets where I think they cut the stuff with out-dated yogurt so they can sell it a little cheaper than the big pump guys out by the freeway. Sure, four-something-cents less on the gallon would come in handy, but 35¢ less on the gallon would come in a hell of a lot handier.

 And at least we know where that four-something-cents a gallon the Democrats foisted off on us is going. What I’m damn curious about is where that other thirty-something-cents that Misters Exxon, Texaco, and Conoco have foisted off on us is going. What? Does Houston need a new paint job? Are we secretly paying to clean up those little boo-boos that happen when somebody tries to steer a half-mile long oil tanker through a quarter-mile wide rock?

          Really, I have a lot of respect for Bob (can you imagine anyone ever calling him “Bobby”) Dole. I don’t think he’s too old to be President any more than I think I’m too old to be a father, and I have no qualms about including him in the same column as my family. But Dole … and Forbes, and Bush and the rest of the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” Republicans … they all suffer from what I call the “‘Bout A Hunert Dollars” Syndrome. They have no more idea what money is really about than the fellow Dustin Hoffman played in Rain Man. Remember the part in the movie where the doctor asks Hoffman how much a candy bar costs?

          “Uh, ’bout a hunert dollars”

          And what a new car costs?

          “Uh, ’bout a hunert dollars.”

          My daughter has the same problem with distances. On the way to Ketchum, as soon as we had driven under the Broadway exit, she asked if we were almost there yet. And she continued to ask the question every time we came to a new sagebrush plant.

          “Well, Day-yud! How much more is it?”

Uh … ’bout a hunert miles, Honey.

May 9, 1996

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