RECENTLY, LIKE MANY OF YOU, I watched with breathless excitement as the Hubble Space Telescope, which cost more than a billion dollars and took more than 10 years to build, was finally, after many delays, launched into orbit, where it began beaming back breathtaking, detailed, full-color, never-seen-before images of the Dairy Queen in Kingman, Kan. This was yet another dramatic example, as if we needed more examples, of the worsening National Incompetence Crisis, which has gotten so bad that President Bush took time off from eliminating the pesky federal budget deficit to ask Vice President Quayle to head a National Incompetence Commission, which recently issued a shocking report in which all the pages were stuck together by what appeared to be used Milk Duds.
Nobody can say what is causing the National Incompetence Crisis. All we know for sure is that it is centered directly over my house. I became aware of this recently when I wandered into our kitchen and found my wife, Beth, shrieking death threats into the telephone. Ordinarily Beth is not a death-threat kind of gal. The closest I have ever seen her come to violence was when she attempted to strike me for making a humorous remark while she was experiencing the Joy and Wonder of natural childbirth.
But she was very angry on the telephone.
"I want it BACK," she was shrieking. "If I don't GET it back, I'm going to call my LAWYER. I'm going to call the POLICE. I'm going to call ORGANIZED CRIME. I'm . . ."
She was talking about our VCR. We got a VCR so we could record TV programs on the one day in four when our cable TV system -- the franchise for which was awarded to politically connected members of the legume family -- is actually working. One day, seconds after the warranty expired, our VCR broke, so we gave it to some men who claimed that they fixed things, but who in fact took it to a secret mountain hideout where they keep thousands of unrepaired appliances, dating back to defective butter churns from the Revolutionary War. Then they made popcorn and gathered around their answering machine to listen to recordings of my wife, who gradually escalated in hostility until she had gone beyond spoken language and was communicating entirely by spit.
Finally, after nine months of this, the men returned our VCR by -- I am not making this up -- LEAVING IT ON OUR DOORSTEP. We came home, and there, under the doormat, was this pathetic whimpering electronic orphan. It still doesn't work, on top of which it now suffers from a fear of abandonment and has formed an unnatural attachment to the microwave oven.
I know what you're thinking. You're think- ing: "Why did you wait nine months? Why didn't you do what the Better Business Bureau recommends in such cases, namely drive over and shoot the men with ma- chine guns?"
BECAUSE MY DAMNED CAR DOESN'T WORK, THAT'S WHY. Excuse me for using loud capital letters, but I get very angry about this, because I con- stantly see advertisements triumphantly announcing that my car has been named something like Rugged Macho Stud Hombre Four-by-Four of the Century by an outfit with a name like Magazine Writers Who Do Not Personally Own This Type of Car but Get to Drive New Ones for Free.
My car needs to be rugged because it takes a constant daily pounding from the tow truck dragging it back to The Mechanic Who Never Actually Fixes the Problem. In fact, in recent months, he has taken to actually making my car WORSE.
"PLEASE DON'T SEND ME BACK TO THAT MAN," I can almost hear my car screaming as the tow truck drags it away, but I just laugh, because at this point I frankly hate my car, which is why I wasn't even upset recently when the mechanic, apparently making sure that he had not accidentally fixed the problem, took the car for a test drive and HAD AN ACCIDENT. Really. I didn't get the details. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he was struck by the Hubble Space Telescope. I don't want to know. I'm not going to spend any more time complaining about the National Incompetence Crisis. I'm going to concentrate on doing my job, and doing it right, because here in the newspaper industry we pride ourselves on