COLUMBUS _ ``The market's tanking and we're splurging,'' Uncle Chet reflected as we drove home in his silver Ranger with two hot pizzas.
``How much did it drop?'' I asked.
``350 points, and oil topped $140 a barrel.''
``Scary,'' I said. ``The Fed's already tried resuscitation and the patient isn't responding.''
``Do you think my hair looks all right?'' asked the little miscreant, who sat between us, staring into a compact mirror.
``Fine,'' I said without looking.
``The patient's dying,'' said Uncle Chet. ``The Republicans are killing Uncle Sam because he's the only one who can stand up to big business. They're trying to bury him in debt, or at least turn him into a pipsqueak.
``First, they cut off his blood, the taxes he used to collect from the rich. Then they start a phony war, siphoning money from the Treasury to Halliburton, and now they're running up the price of oil and running down the dollar.''
``What's the point?'' I said.
``Power,'' he said. ``We're all serfs now, supplicants at work or on Social Security. Do what you're told, or your job's going to New Delhi, along with your health insurance. One false move and you lose your house.''
``We need Obama,'' I said.
``Serfs know their place,'' said Uncle Chet. ``They don't have pesky unions and crazy ideas about equality. You don't lobby against global warming, the WTO and telecom spying when you're in a depression.''
``A depression makes the Army look pretty good, too,'' I noted.
``True, there's another benefit,'' he said. ``Now we can start a new war and we won't need a draft, because the new poor will keep filling the ranks.''
``I hate bangs, especially when they're long, like these,'' said the little miscreant, snapping the compact shut. ``They make me look like a 10-year-old.''
``Obama,'' I said.
``Obama's going to start deep in the hole,'' said Uncle Chet. ``There's never been a recession we couldn't spend our way out of, until this one, the new depression. We've got a record number of billionaires and we're $9 trillion in debt, and those two facts are directly related. And what do we Americans have to show for this investment, made in our name by our elected representatives? Crumbling roads and bridges, decrepit railroads, our jobs overseas and General Motors stock at a 50-year low.''
"Does stink,'' I said.
``We're tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan, Columbia, the Philippines and the top Republicans want to bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb, Iran, next.''
``I saw McCain singing that, on Youtube,'' said the 10th grader.
``You're listening,'' I glanced at her.
``I'm trying not to,'' she shook her head. ``What I really want to know is: should I cut these bangs, or let them grow out?''
``Whatever costs the least,'' I said. ``Your uncle is suggesting we should immediately cut all discretionary spending, like haircuts, pizza and summer camp.''
"All I'm saying is only a fool would think we we've already hit bottom,'' said the driver, shifting to neutral as the road curved and descended, and with the engine barely turning, we whipped into a straightaway cut between rows of corn, sailing past an abandoned barn.
``We can go all the way to your road now, and never touch the gas,'' he announced.
``Pretty good.'' I made note to try it.
``Should I cut these bangs?''
``When gas hits $10, everyone's going to drive this way,'' said Uncle Chet. ``I'm just trying to conserve a little now, get the wood in early, because I think we're in for a rough ride.''
``The bangs?'' said a sarcastic voice.
He glanced at her. ``Do you like the bangs?''
``Then let them grow.''
``But they'll get worse,'' she objected.
``You know the old rule: `No pain, no gain,''' he said. ``Now, here comes the pain.''
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears twice monthly.