COLUMBUS _ ``I am bitter,'' said Uncle Chet, at the wheel of his silver Ford Ranger, idling along a dirt road on a warm spring afternoon, looking for a real-estate sign.
``When I think how they've shipped our jobs overseas, cheapened the dollar, looted the treasury for a trumped-up war, it turns my stomach in a knot,'' he said as the narrow road curved and rose up a brush-covered hill.
He gave it a little gas.
``I can't even think about it at night or it keeps me up.'' He glanced my way. ``The bitterest part is how they're getting away with it!''
``True,'' I said.
``Cheney meets secretly with energy execs, oil begins to rise from $30 to $115 a barrel, but there's no talk of collusion.''
``There is, but it's whispered,'' I said.
``Well, I want to hear it shouted. I want to see arrests and trials and the same kind of justice they mete out when someone steals a candy bar.''
``Watch where you're going,'' I said, and he averted his eyes.
``They pretend Bush is in charge so they can blame the high price of food, gas and health care on mismanagement _ on the apparent fact the president is a nincompoop,'' said Uncle Chet. ``But he's no nincompoop and we're not being mismanaged.''
``Not sure about that.'' I rolled down my window. ``This war looks like a botched job.''
``No, it's worse than that,'' said Uncle Chet. ``The bitter truth is the war is going beautifully for some people, Bush's base, while a relative handful of Americans are killed off and the rest of us are picked clean.''
``Now, that is bitter,'' I said.
``Yes,'' said Uncle Chet. ``And anyone not bitter about the last seven years either doesn't care about this country or isn't paying attention.''
``How far is this place?'' I tried to divert him back to the mission: scouting out land for Cousin Bruce, who'd just inherited a little money and wanted to put down roots.
``Supposed to be somewhere around here,'' he said as we crested a hill and saw the Unadilla River below, winding south through the bottom land on its way to Sidney.
``Hey, is that it?'' I pointed ahead.
He idled up to a for-sale sign and pulled onto the grass by scrubby, brushy hillside. ``Billy goat country,'' he said dismissively.
``Maybe he could put in a curving driveway,'' I suggested. ``It might work with a four-wheel drive.''
``Looks pretty wet, too,'' he noted.
``Want to walk it?''
``No. He's coming up next weekend. If he wants to, we'll walk it with him,'' said Uncle Chet, while gingerly turning around.
``I wonder how much they want?''
``All I know is he said it's a bargain,'' said Uncle Chet and we started back.
We rode quietly, perusing fields starting to green, decrepit barns, a new log cabin, until he asked me to open the glove box and get out the latest edition of the ``Hightower Lowdown.''
``Now look that over, and tell me you're not bitter,'' he said.
``You mean, like where it says 34.8 million Americans had no health insurance in 2001, compared to 46.9 million now?''
``Or the national debt was $5.7 trillion when Bush took over, and stands at $9.2 trillion in 2008?'''
``There you go.''
"Oh, I see what you mean about the dollar,'' I said. ``In 2001, you could buy a Euro for $1.01, but now it's $1.45.''
``Exactly. Remember the talk of freedom fries,' when the French and their European pals decided to avoid the quicksand of Iraq?'' said Uncle Chet. ``Well, who's laughing now, when we can hardly afford potatoes?''
``Wait a minute; there is some good news here,'' I said. ``The number of billionaires in the United States has more than doubled, up from 186 to 415 in the last seven years.''
``Yep. The Republicans have been great for billionaires; just no good the rest of us,'' he said.
``Well, you're succeeding,'' I shook my head. ``Even though the weather's perfect, the fridge is full and we're not out of gas, I think I'm starting to feel a little bitter.''
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.