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 Day 19

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Adventures in Fuel Efficiency

My Harrowing Escape

by BEN TRIPP

One of the most unpleasant dilemmas facing us average Americans today is that of our individual impact on the environment. I say ‘average American’, because for the people who buy Hummers, Escalades, or Panzerkampfwagen VI Tigers, environmental impact is not an unpleasant dilemma. Parking may be an issue. But for them, the environment is just an inadequately paved area adjacent to the road. The average American is somebody who gets a multiple of three miles per gallon. The average American is aware they’re living an unsustainable life, but hasn’t much idea how to fix it. As an average American, I have grappled with this aspect of my own existence — and lost.

Certain aspects of my lifestyle were easy to bring in line with an environmentally responsible approach. For example, to reduce water consumption, I sneak over to my neighbor’s house and use their toilet, and to further conserve water, I don’t flush. I recycle dozens of liquor bottles per week, as well as any trash that can’t be repurposed, such as spent uranium fuel rods. Did you know you can shingle your roof with old soda cans? Flatten them with that old Panzer that’s been gathering dust in the garage. You see?

Almost anything that can’t be recycled can be repurposed. Two brothers in Maine recently turned an aircraft carrier they found at the landfill into a perfectly serviceable tomato frame, and what’s even more amazing, the thing still keeps perfect time! But even the lowest of low-impact folks needs a car.

Until a couple of years ago, my grandfather rode a horse everywhere he needed to go. He rode it back and forth from one end of the swimming pool to the other, because they were trapped down there. Fine and dandy, but if Grandpa (we called him ‘Grinks’ or ‘Ftnoogwub’) ever decided to go to the Federal Building downtown, where would he park the horse? It was lame in its off hind leg, but never got the handicapped license plate, so the poor brute (I mean the horse) would have ended up in some six-dollar-an-hour lot, ten blocks away. Horse not work. If the bus doesn’t run past your house, you need a car. Seeing as my neighbors don’t leave the keys in their car any more, I had to go buy one. So I bought an extremely fuel-efficient car.

If you are not familiar with the Fiat Cinquecento, you are a boob. This diminutive automobile, last manufactured in 1975, is primarily known through its frequent use in circuses. Fifty clowns jump out of it, then two of them carry it out of the ring. This venerable machine gets about fifty miles to the gallon, even in the condition mine is in. It seats four people, assuming the ones in the back seat are bilateral amputees or were born without buttocks. I have wedged four people and a dog into the car, but if anyone had gotten an erection during the trip we all would have been crushed to death. It’s not a spacious vehicle. The secret to its fuel efficiency, apart from its small size, is its extremely conservative engine design. The Fiat 500 (Cinquecento is merely the Italian word for ‘twelve’, but because of Roman numerals it comes out to ‘500’) generates, in the prime of its youth, twenty-four horsepower. It can attain speeds of up to forty-five miles per hour assuming a stiff tail wind and perfectly level ground. Once the 500 attains this velocity, generally after a trifling quarter of an hour, it sounds exactly like a sewing machine chewing up a piece of sheet metal.

Mind you, this is a specimen in top form.

Mine, a 1973 500R originally from Sicily, has seen better days, and by the looks of it, the better days ended before the Schism of Rome. I recently decided to introduce some pollution into the environment by changing the oil. This had not occurred since the first Godfather movie. Removing a thatch of beard hairs from the undercarriage(the original owner was a widow), I removed the plug in the oil pan. A liquid resembling roofing compound poured out, and also a couple of circus clowns. Then I noticed the battery was leaking, releasing sulfuric acid into the ground. Naturally I then decided to degrease the engine and see what else was amiss. The degreaser you could defoliate Cambodia with. It turned out I needed to install assorted parts, fluids, and greases, the offcastings of which amounted to three trash bags full of stuff they wouldn’t take in Yucca Flats. So not only is my lawn now a superfund site, the car still won’t run. My attempt at fuel efficiency was a complete bust. Not to worry — I may be an average American, but I still have Grumpa Blurpy’s horse.

BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter and cartoonist, who lives in a large human settlement 100 miles south of Bakersfield, which we cannot name for security reasons. Ben also has a lot of outrageously priced crap for sale here. A collection of Tripp’s essays, Square in the Nuts, will be published this summer. If his writing starts to grate on your nerves, buy some and maybe he’ll flee to Mexico. If all else fails, he can be reached at: credel@earthlink.net