AGAINST THE BETTER JUDGMENT OF

my good Japanophile friend, I bought a new American car the other day (well, almost new -- a demo model). You see, my brother-in-law builds American cars in Illinois, and I wanted to do the right thing. Ranting about lousy U.S. cars and glorifying the Japanese always rings hollow when I visit him and hear about all the people who make a living as long as somebody buys U.S. cars. I can't forget an auto union rule of thumb he passed on to me: For every five foreign cars bought in this country, an American will lose his job. So putting Consumer Reports aside, I bought red, white and blue.

But for the record: This is Detroit's last chance.

A few days after my purchase, a woman named Marie called me at home from the Chrysler dealership to ask me some questions. She said that Mr. Stevenson, the owner, would be reviewing my answers personally. So you can imagine how seriously I took this.

My answers:

No, the car was not clean when I picked it up; in fact, there were bugs mashed on the front bumper and grime built up around the fenders.

No, the car was not clean inside; in fact, there were two empty Winston packs in the glove compartment and ashes in the ashtray.

No, I had not been taken to the service department for an introduction, though I do vaguely remember that someone walking through the showroom was casually introduced to me as the service manager.

And, finally, no, I couldn't very well have been satisfied with the driving instructions I received before leaving in my new car because I didn't get any driving instructions before leaving in my new car. I can't imagine that I really needed driving instructions, but if Mr. Stevenson demands this, I believe he should know the complete and cruel truth.

"Oh," said Marie, with a tone of genuine mortification, "I can assure you that Mr. Stevenson will be looking at this very closely."

Tell me, why do I get this sinking feeling in my patriotic soul?