J. William Middenforf is a Very Important Person. President Richard M. Nixon appointed him secretary of the Navy in 1974.
Richard M. Nixon is no longer president and his man Middendorf is no longer secretary of the Navy, but Middendorf is still a very important person. He is now president of Financial General Bankshares, and he appears to retain his political ambitions.
Middendorf was quoted in The Washington Post yesterday as saying, "I find myself in a situation where I have to get places. I'm in constant demand from a business, social and political point of view."
This alone would mark Middendorf as a special person. I cannot think of anybody else in the Washington area who needs to move about to make a living or to maintain personal, civic or social activities.
It is obvious that the nation must provide people of such importance with a sufficient amount of gasoline to meet all their needs.
The occasion for our interview with Middendorf was a front-page news story about people who can afford to spend as much as $3,000 to bury gasoline storage tanks under the lawns that surround their homes. Middendorf's tank was described as having a capacity of 4,000 gallons - "enough to supply the average American car with gasoline for more than seven years."
Possibly Middendorf and the other very important people named in our news story and heard that motorists are "topping off" the gas tanks in their autos - in other words, keeping their tanks fuller than usual. And if a little bit of hoarding is good, a whole lot is better, isn't it?
An automobile's 20-gallon gas tank can't be kept any fuller than 20 gallons of course. But VIPs who could afford to install private tanks underground saw an opportunity to buywhat Middendorf called "an insurance policy." Some bought tanks that hold several hundred gallons. Middendorf chose a modest 4,000-gallon model.
No laws have been broken, so one can only hope Middendorf's tank will keep him in gasoline until he is in less demand "from a political point of view."
One small hitch has developed for those who installed private storage tanks. They have had some difficulty in finding gasoline wholesalers willing to fill their tanks. However, it is reasonable to assume that one who can afford $3,000 for a tank will be able to afford a sufficient expenditure to induce somebody to fill it.
There are very few legal restrictions on private underground tanks, mostly because it did not occur to legislators that any private person would attempt to hoard so much gasoline for his own purposes.
Instead of attacking this legislative deficiency through complicated piece-meal legislation, permit me to suggest a quicker way to remedy the situation.
All we need is a law that says anybody who stores more than one gallon of gasoline must offer it for sale to the public at a price of no more than a stated percentage above what he paid for it.
I would be willing to chip in to buy Middendorf a neatly lettered sign for his front lawn. The sign would say, "Ring Bell for Service."
Colleague Edward (Ned) Purcell tells me that people who store gasoline for too long may encounter unexpected problems when they use it.
"Owners of power mowers and power boats are advised not to use last year's gasoline," he says. "They tell you to start each season with fresh gasoline; throw away anything left from last year because if you use it, it will foul your motor."
Oh, what a pity! I do hope nobody's Mercedes or Ferrari gets a fouled motor. Repair bills can be such a bore.
THE ENDLESS APPETITE
I'm reminded of a friend who once owned racehorses. When he sold them, I asked why.
"My boy," he said, "let me give you some of the best financial advice you'll ever get: Never own anything that eats."
Horse-drawn buggies have been replaced as the standard mode of transportation - but not, unfortunately, by anything that will keep on going even when you don't feed it.
Dr. Leonard Tuchin passes along a story about Idi Amin's loyal followers urging him to try for a comeback.
"All right," Amin says at last. "but this time, no more Mr. Nice Guy."
DO YOUR BIT
Don Epperson of the Texas Tourist Council has a gasoline conservation plan I like: "Send your teen-agers to camp for the summer."*