Once upon a time, way too long ago, we Clifton/Smiths and a dog with no surname loaded into a Subaru with a hillock of sleeping bags, pads, books, salami, generic kibble, two huckleberry pies, and a change of clothing each. Underneath were a Dremel tool with a chewcanful of router bits and a belt sander. We were headed to Boise to attend the annual Powertool Pumpkin Carving Gala and Belt Sander Drag Races.
America had more in store for us than making merry. When we were a coffee addict’s full bladder away from home, in this case Baker City, we pulled off Interstate 84 into a clean junk food emporium where I was blown away to discover, piled at the entrance, a half-cord of punky lodgepole firewood, plastic-bundled in armload quantities, $5 each and clearly labeled “Made in Canada.”
I almost choked on my corndog.
The local firewood gypsies, those independents who herd rattletrap pickups with 5-foot racks over goat trails while hauling two cords of red fir and tamarack, were being strangled by international corporate greed. Call me protectionist, reactionary, communist, I don’t care. It just seems that something is stinky wrong with the holy economy when an American chain store gas station is selling bad Canadian firewood five minutes away from a national forest.
I was still mumbling in my mustache about unbridled capitalism as we passed the Ore-Ida Tater Tot factory in Ontario, blowing greasy steamrings into the sky, then crossed over the Snake River into Idaho. An hour later, I was chillin’ on a couch in the north end of Boise.
The party format was Idaho standard: play hard, play safe, nobody hurt. Outside the back door of a cozy home in the Boise foothills were 20 pumpkins, two sets of large construction flood lights, a large potting shed table, a 50-gallon garbage bucket, enough power tools to build a piano and the sander drag strip, two lanes, 16 feet long.
Inside the house were a round oak table filled with potluck fortunes including individual cream puffs, a vat of home-brewed chili, and a cabinet filled with hangovers including three bottles of Russian vodka. Standing there, I realized that there may be a flaw in my political thinking because it didn’t bother me that Russians peddle vodka in a state best known for growing its prime ingredient.
The pumpkin mangling was an exercise in young people’s encounter with power tools. Most mutilators had the same vision, a Jack-o-Lantern with triangle eyes and snaggletooth grin. But the lure of operating the tool overcame the desire for a perfect product. I watched a 6-year-old girl, with a cordless drill and quarter-inch spade bit, punch maybe 800 holes into Jack’s head, giggling all the while. I roughed out a regular Halloween head with a jigsaw, then tattooed it with a rotary tool.
The belt sander drags were rigged. I was running a stock Sears 4x24 with 80 grit paper. On my first trial of Ol’ Dusty, she flipped sideways, her switch shorted, and she went up in sparks with that electrical odor. The trophy winner was owned by the person who had constructed the track, an aircraft mechanic, who modified a 3-inch sander to include two side wheels that made it run straight and true between the rails that divided lanes. The winning elapsed time in this year’s drags was just under one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, for 16 feet. Don’t try this on you mother’s Persian carpet.
The next morning my son had money burning a hole in his pocket so we went across Boise to a mega-electronics box store. While he scratched his mop about letting go of cash for this or that peripheral for his gaming computer, I entered the Temple of Refrigeration, where I encountered yet another indicator that something’s fishy in modern Consumerica.
There I viewed the Holy Grail of refrigerators. For a mere $4,200 one can purchase a brushed aluminum, side-by-side refrigerator/freezer with ice water dispenser and, I kid you not, built into the refrigerator door, a 24-inch flat panel television screen.
I stood in puzzled rapture. Some folks have a small TV set in the kitchen, a replacement for the countertop radios of old, meant to deliver propaganda over one’s morning cup or let one stay current with Don Knotts while cooking the grits. But for whom was this product designed? Is there someone out there, with a kitchen big enough, who actually wants to stare at a whole herking refrigerator while investigating the effects of wave action on swimwear during an episode of “Baywatch”? I was too dumbfounded to get the brand name on this beast, but if you have a very large unfilled niche in your gadget collection, you can get together with one of these babies in several box stores.
Luckily, my space limitation in this paper prohibits a full rant about what unbridled consumerism is doing to our planet. Just one small last example, though, in closing. On that same afternoon, in the pet food aisle of a store once heralded for its supply of natural bulk foods, I found on the top shelf, at two bucks per 16-ounce bottle, three products labeled Chicken Flavored Water, Beef Flavored Water, and Bacon Flavored Water.