"Plus: Correction about State Fair tent
I think I’ve figured it out,” a buddy of mine said the other day.
“What’s that,” I said, walking to the fridge to get an ice cold Northstar beer, the brew known as the Pride of Aldi’s.
“There’s no such thing as shady behavior anymore,” my friend said.
“Seriously,” he said. “None of the previous rules apply anymore. It’s ‘anything goes’ out there.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, switching the channel to America’s Next Top Model, which was just starting.
“It’s true,” he said. “Bush can do whatever the hell he wants and nobody cares anymore. They can charge you three bucks a gallon for gas and nobody’s rioting in the streets about it. Hell, nobody complains about paying $10 to go see a movie. There are no rules. America is becoming a Third World country.”
I was watching the models and only half paying attention to what he was saying. But I thought about it later and I realized he was right. The way this country works anymore, it seems like even the most basic beliefs are being questioned and, when appropriate, ignored. It’s not like anyone’s going to complain.
I was driving south the other day to my sister’s house over in Perry Township, when my front left tire blew out. I pulled over when it was safe to do so. As luck would have it, I had pulled into the parking lot immediately adjacent to a tire-and-oil change place, a brand-name chain store.
I go into the shop and tell the mechanic on duty about my problem: flat tire, no spare and my car is parked next door. He had the tire in stock and gave it to one of his men to install it. The clerk began to ring up my order and took my name and phone number.
“With the install and the balance,” he said, “that’ll be $78.32.”
“Uh, OK,” I said, mentally deducting that amount from my life.
He looked at me. I was wearing an orange No. 20 Tony Stewart cap and sporting a blue No. 15 Ron Artest Pacers jersey. It was about 90 degrees out and I was pouring sweat.
“Do you have cash?” he asked.
“Yup,” I said. “Cash.”
“My cash drawer’s a little short,” he said. “It’s $78.32 if I ring it up, but I can do it under the table for 50 bucks.”
“Works for me,” I said. “You guys know how to ‘Git-R-Done.’”
We laughed at our mutual victory over the system.
Several people I know tell similar stories. Employees of gigantic multinational corporations are starting to work on the barter system. There’s a big-box store in the metro area where bartering is apparently an art, where people have conspired with crooked employees to get $500 TVs for $100 and computers for $50.
There are no rules anymore. I think it starts at the top.
Politicians can bash the hell out of each other. Advertisers can make any kind of claim they want and the Federal Trade Commission just blinks. The president can say the sky is green and Rush Limbaugh and Fox News will talk about what a great scientific discovery it is.
I think I’ve kind of gotten used to it. I even like it now.
Of course, I’m the kind of person who is always rooting for a mile-wide asteroid to crash into Earth. I was greatly disappointed when the conspiracy-theory Web sites and psychics were wrong and Iran didn’t launch a nuclear strike on Aug. 22, a date of some significance in the Arab world.
But I like the idea of going into stores and negotiating a price with an underpaid clerk hungry for cash. I don’t like the idea of breaking the law, so I’d be wary of doing it again, though.
They say that under-the-table deals and shady store clerks were very common in the last days of the Soviet Union, when the citizens had pretty much given up hope on ever getting the system to work on their side.
But mark my words. The old rules don’t apply anymore, in ways both small and large. People are going to have to adapt to it, I think, or get left behind. Our economy is moving into a barter system and I’m glad for it.
I’m not sure that everyone is going to like it.
In my column two weeks ago, I made mention of the Indiana Right to Life Coalition’s tent at the Indiana State Fair and of space purchased there by a Christian ministry. In doing so, I combined the two in my mind.
The Right to Life Coalition was selling life-size replicas of living, not aborted fetuses as I said, although I honestly didn’t know the difference, having never seen fetuses on a fair’s table before. The tent contained no religious material and was a center for pro-life educational material.
I was not making light of the pro-life advocates or the fundamentalist Christians. I’m an anti-abortion fundamentalist myself. Seriously. I’m against abortion, although, like most Americans, it’s not a black-and-white issue for me.
But I was wrong to have combined the pro-life and the Christian tents as they were spaced closely together and I was dizzy from too many Lemon Shake-Ups and deep-fried Oreos.
I apologize to anyone offended by my misguided attempt at humor.