I WAS STANDING in a supermarket checkout line not long ago when I thought of a new country & western single: "It's No Wonder Your Hari's Always in Curlers 'Cause You've Never Been Straight With Me." It just came to me. A lot of country & western songs had been coming to me. I thought I knew where they came from: The tipoff was that they were, without exception, dreadful.
Once, I had made up a character in a book who thought up truly awful country & western songs -- Duane Minnick, a gas station attendant who wrote "The Coveralls I Wear May Be Green But I'm the Bluest Car Mechanic You Ever Seen" and "I'm Just a Loaner While You Wait for the Two-Door Hardtop of Your Dreams" ("You used to be here, but right now you're there/You done left me for chrome and factory air").
I figure that for reasons I couldn't imagine -- my behavior since the book had been impeccable -- Minnick had come back to live inside me, like some sullen grease-stained dybbuk. There was a time when seeing a lot of women wearing curlers at the supermarket would have just made me think that maybe we were in for a prom, or maybe the president had asked everyone to wear curlers until the Japanese quit dumping color television sets on the American market. It was the presence of Minnick, I figured, that caused the sight to put lyrics in my head: You can't hear me cause you're still under the dryer. So I'm saying that you're nothing but a frizzy-haired liar . Some day, when you're standing there combing it out, I'm going to put down my own blow-dryer and shout, "It's no wonder your hair's always in curlers 'Cause you've never been straight with me."
For a while, I thought the songs were brought on by being in what might be considered country music settings -- what New York social scientists refer to in their monographs as "places where you find a lot of schleppers." After all, I had been in an electronic games arcade when I wrote "You Shot Me Down in the Electronic Game of Life": You tell me you found another and you wouldn't trade her For two hundred points on Space Invaders . It's all so cruel; it's so downright mean . I'm nothing but a blip on your Hatari machine.
Then, I happened to be watching the television coverage of a Senate hearing held to determine whether President Reagan's nominee for deputy secretary of state knew less about foreign policy than President Reagan's nominee for secretary of energy knew about energy. When the man nominated to be deputy secretary of state was asked some question to test his knowledge of world affairs -- as I remember, he was asked whether the monarch of the United Kingdom is Queen Elizabeth II or the Baal Shem Tov -- he knit his brow in concentration, and I, instead of blurting out the answer in order to impress my children, found myself singing a C & W single called "I Was Your Double-Knit Lover But We're Both Single Again": You used to say you'd never seen nothing quite so cute As me in my salmon-pink leisure suit . And now you leave my heart to dry up and crack and fester . To you, I'm just a used-up old pile of polester. I was your double-knit lover, but we're both single again .
Could it really have been, I asked myself, that "double-knit" came from watching the future administrator of the State Department knit his brow? That would have been a pretty subtle play on words for an ignorant grease monkey like Duane Minnick. Would alliteration come next? Could it be that in addition to my other worries -- the bomb, inflation, the possibility that the Reagan administration would reatiliate in some way for my suggestion that Mrs. Reagan trade one of her ballgowns for the federal hot-lunch program -- I had to worry about a sneak attack of cowboy onomatopaeia from within? As Minnick himself might say, "It don't seem right." As I thought, I could hear the words of a C & W tune called "With All This Talk on Human Rights, Why Is It You're Still Torturing Me?": Sure, it ain't right that them South American generals make some folks disappear . But it's nothing compared to the flat-out suffering that's goin' on right here. And the folks who disappear ain't nothin' but foreigners anyway, Which is why you ought to listen when I say, "With all this talk on human rights, why is it you're still torturing me?"
I had to face facts: That nitwit Duane Minnick might be a part of the swing to the right. Sure enough, a song came to me with the title "I'll Be Your Supply Side , Baby, If You'll Just Invest In Me." Supply side? Wait a minute! Minnick wouldn't know from supply side. Who's in there anyway -- Duane Minnick or David A. Stockman? If Stockman's in there, I realized, he could be followed by Donald Regan ("He's Feeding You All That Bull, Honey, 'Cause He Wants to Get Bearish With You"). The dentist wouldn't be far behind. I began to soften my view of Duane Minnick. Sure, Duane has his faults, but as an example of the solid American yeoman class he strikes me as . . . You bowled a strike when it came to me, But now we're split, and I can see.
Duane! Pure Duane! I listened with relif: You used me as a spare, though it really wasn't fair Then you told me as you left me at the door That I ain't bowlin' in your bowlin' league no more.