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A Baker Off

Jimmy O'Brien eased his foot off the gas and glanced in the rear view mirror for an opportunity to get back in the right lane. He cranked his head around, as much as an arthritic neck would allow, and cut the wheel sharply. Once again, his dirty, yellow, Rabbit hatchback managed to zip safely past yet another water trap on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The Volkswagen was a good car and taking out the rear seat had left enough room for all the stuff he wanted to bring with him to San Diego. The car's only real problem was a hole through the floor on the driver's side that shot a column of water into Jimmy's happy face whenever he hit a puddle at highway speeds. Despite this shortcoming, the car ran remarkably well for its age. Of course, there wasn't much heat to speak of and no windshield defogging. Oh, and the brakes weren't so hot--only the right rear wheel's pad was actually connecting.

At least the wipers still worked. And the AM radio had sounded great ever since Jimmy replaced the broken antenna with an inverted wire coat hanger. Even so, by the time he passed an exit for Turkey City, about all he could pick up was static and an occasional angry Frenchman. It was dark and he was tired. But he was determined to make his goal of Cleveland before sleep.

Ksssshhhhh . . . turn . . . ksssshhhhh . . . turn . . . kkkkkkkkkkkk . . . ne trouve pas son repos en soi-même, il est inutile de la chercher . . . turn . . . kssshhhhkkkksshhhh . . . turn . . . kssshhhhh . . . turn . . .

" . . . police out of it! Okay? That's all I'm saying."

English! Jimmy wasn't the talk-radio type, but he felt some small victory in finding something.

"Okay fellah, thanks for calling. Next we have a call from Mansfield. Hello!"

"Hello? Barry?"

"Yes, you're on the air."

"Oh, okay. Barry, . . . I just don't understand one thing. Why do you care about this?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, why do you care about this law. Do you really give a damn about the liberty of some guy who wants to eat a pile of crap?"

"You're damned right I give a damn about eating crap! Look don't tread on me, okay?! I'm not saying you should eat crap. I mean I, for one, don't eat the stuff and don't think it's a particularly good idea. But I don't want big government telling me what the hell I can or can't eat. This is the United States of America! If you want to eat human byproducts, by George, I say bon appétit!!"

"Yeah, but you'd have to be crazy to eat that stuff. It shouldn't be allowed! If they find someone eating it, I say they ought to lock him up! I mean, you'd have to be nuts!"

"Okay, look . . . let's slow down for a second. Since when has fecal ingestion been a big problem in this country? Hmmm? Do we really need anti-dung-eating statutes? Whose business is it anyway? The way I see it, government has no right to enact legislation that requires people to behave intelligently. What are we, children?! This sort of legislation goes way beyond what the framers of our constitution had in mind!"

"Well, it just shouldn't be allowed that's all. It's disgusting!"

"All right. Thank you for the call . . . and we'll continue with our discussion on the great dung-eater controversy, right after this."

"Stupid! These talk show guys will debate anything," thought Jimmy, who once argued passionately that a jelly cruller was more sophisticated than a sprinkle-topped cream donut.

"Okay, we're back. Before we start with the calls, let me remind you that the Sons of Constitutional Liberty have organized a protest on this outrageous dung-eating legislation. You can meet me there as we broadcast a show live from in front of the state house this Friday at noon. The Sons do plan to ingest a little contraband as part of this protest so why not come over to help them out, eh? Look, this is it folks! Don't let some bubble-headed bureaucrat walk all over your Constitutional rights! Today they want to ban eating dung. Lord only knows what will come next! We've got to stop this obvious march over liberty toward the institutionalization of a damned police state!"

Stupid!

"So far the response for this protest hasn't been all that great. Come on people! This is your chance to help shape history. Call the Sons of Constitutional Liberty and let them know you'll be there to do your part . . ."

Click! And the radio was off.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. "There's too much damned freedom in this country," thought O'Brien, who glanced through the darkness at the faded plastic Madonna on his dash board.

"Society needs rules," he thought, "Society needs order! People just can't run amok! You shouldn't be able to do whatever the hell you feel like doing!" (Especially if you feel like downing three sauerkraut dogs and two plates of Boston-baked beans a few hours before boarding a jammed rush-hour subway.)

Jimmy was a good, rule-following player in God's vast deterministic hockey game. He wasn't the kind to risk time in any theotherapeutic penalty box. No, he played strictly by the book (which happened to be a collection of revisionist essays on Catholic ethics authored by a fifteenth century syphilitic pub owner named Eddie and passed from generation to generation of Irish Roman Catholics in a mystical oratory most often inspired by a special brew of green beer and finger-aged holy water).

What was Jimmy O'Brien? He was a machine--a mean machine (in a nice sort of way)--who knew what was what! He was certainly no ghost in the machine--no spiritual base of an indeterminate will facing an eternal struggle between good and evil. Nope. When he looked in the mirror, he didn't see a face that belonged to him. He saw himself--good ol' Jimmy O'Brien!

He was a physical being properly programmed to follow divine purpose. He lived the right way and never failed to remove his cap when he met a lady, when he heard the soft sound of Irish bag pipes, or whenever he felt flatulent. Yes, he was functional, a social automaton you could diagram, a man with well-designed moving parts!

If Jimmy thought of life after death at all, it was in terms of his current life. He'd live much as he had before. The big difference would be a new place in the order of things in a new location called heaven. And what was heaven? Apparently, it was a place much like Orlando, where there'd be plenty of time to finally get back in shape on easy-to-use, no-sweat, motor-powered exerbikes! Or maybe you could really let yourself go and face no risk of ever again seeing Jane Fonda. Yep, everything would work out if you stuck to convention because there's just no sense in arguing over God's rules. He was, after all, the Pope's boss!

Anyhow, Jimmy made it to Cleveland where he pulled into a twenty-four hour truck stop, used the facilities, and sat down for a late dinner. That night, he slept comfortably in the car with the seat pressed all the way back. An old woolen blanket kept him warm and he slept soundly well into the next day.

Before breakfast, he washed up and shaved his ruddy face in the rest room. Like any good, God-fearing American, he dutifully turned his socks and underwear inside out to get another day or two of wear out of them. Before leaving, he sat down for a plate of fried eggs and sausage. After a second helping, he bought some extra coffee and donuts to go and hit the road for California.

The day was sunny and the road was happily dry. What a good day for travel! Under normal circumstances, Jimmy would never pick up a hitch hiker. But the combination of sun and dry pavement had lightened his spirits to the point where he had started singing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir version of Danny Boy. Besides, how could he resist a cardboard and crayon sign reading San Diego when that was his exact destination? What a coincidence!

O'Brien figured it had to be destiny and that failing to stop would have been, well . . . unchristian! He pulled the seat forward so the traveler could throw her back pack in the rear with all Jimmy's stuff.

"Hi," she said brightly as she slid into the front seat, "my name is Alice. How far are you going?"

Jimmy felt a pang of pity at the poor girl's plainness and shook her outstretched hand with a forced smile.

"Pretty far," he said, not ready to commit to the whole distance.


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