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Both Sides Now 

An inveterate cynic tries the Pollyanna approach.

From this day forward (or at least for the next couple weeks), I'm going to look on the bright side of things. Judging by the volume and tone of the hate mail I get, I've been a tad too negative lately. Why, just last week, some guy wrote in to call me a complete idiot and then he took a previous hate-letter writer to task for not having hated me enough. And then he basically agreed with what I had said in the previous column, but ended by calling me an idiot again. I almost got vertigo.

But we're going to be optimistic here. For example, it's not really hot and nasty out there. It's an opportunity to sweat away those last few unwanted pounds. Heck, if you do it right, you can sweat them away on the way to the workout place. Windows up, AC off. And the ozone-layer hole will shrink along with you.

I've had my Honda almost eight years and I've never turned on the air conditioner, not once. And this one small gesture has helped me stay within 70 or 80 pounds of my ultimate weight goal. Wait a minute! I just thought of something! Does that mean that I still have my original freon? Maybe I could sell it on the black market. I'm certainly optimistic that that could happen.

There's a guy named Jeff who works at the fitness place where I work out. He says that in California they have valet parking at the fitness centers so that the people don't have to walk too far from their parking spaces to the building! Could we possibly hate these people any more than we already do?

As it turns out, yes. The head of the California Homeowners' Association flatly rejected the suggestion that people use clotheslines to dry their clothes in an effort to help ease the critical energy crunch in the state, citing reasons of aesthetics. I'm a lifelong liberal, the son of immigrants, raised in poverty, and a regular churchgoer, and I can't find it in me to feel sorry for even one person in that entire state. But I remain optimistic that my outlook might change someday.

Anyway, let's look at a few items and see how being optimistic can make all the difference in the world.

Item: Cat basketball players bolt, leaving next year's squad depleted.

Pessimist: Oh, man, the Cats are going to suck next year. If Jason Gardner leaves, too, they have no chance of winning the Pac-10 title and might even be in danger of not making the NCAAs.

Realist: Arizona hasn't won an outright Pac-10 title in years. Plus, Lute Olson loves a challenge. The Pac-10 won't be that tough next year. The Cats should do OK.

Optimist: Look on the bright side. This will give the Tucson Police Department two or three years to work all the kinks out of their Fourth Avenue Response Scenario. Here's a suggestion: Why not give all those snipers up on the rooftops rubber grenades to throw?

Item: Construction snarls Tucson's streets.

Pessimist: This situation seems to get worse on an almost daily basis. You can't go anywhere in this town without it taking at least an hour.

Realist: Years ago, Tucsonans made a conscious decision not to plan growth. Now we are in a situation where we must react to it. And, by nature, our reactions will always be too slow.

Optimist: This gives all the butthole drivers the opportunity to work on their high-speed lane changes as they selfishly try to take cuts in line. And it might also give an otherwise-meek law abider the resolve not to let the buttholes in. Let's admit it: It can absolutely make your day when everybody who saw the "Lane Closed Ahead" sign and got over in plenty of time to form a nice, neat line through the bottleneck stays bumper-to-bumper and refuses to let the jerks squeeze in. If that doesn't just make you want to hug your fellow man, nothing will.

Item: Gas prices might hit $2 a gallon.

Pessimist: This is going to ruin the economy. It's going to cause further tension in the Middle East. It's going to make Dick Cheney so rich he'll have another heart attack.

Realist: It's like that scene in The Longest Yard where Burt Reynolds hits the sadistic prison guard/linebacker Budanski right in the groin with a thrown pass. Budanski struggles to his feet, staggers back to his huddle, and then barely reaches the line of scrimmage for the next play. Meanwhile, in the Mean Machine huddle, Reynolds says, "Hey, it worked once; it oughta work again! Same play." And sure enough, it does work again.

We've been on this rollercoaster ride since 1973 and we haven't learned a darn thing. When the first "oil crisis" hit, people were driving cars that got 10 miles per gallon. We tightened up fuel economy standards, started driving smaller cars and temporarily got a little smarter about our driving habits.

But in a few years, people were back driving T-Birds and Crown Victorias and we got hit again in 1979. It went up and down and up and down and we never learned. And now that people are driving big-ass cars again, it hits $2. Are we supposed to be surprised? What, Arabs and Venezuelans aren't smart enough to see that we're suckers, as predictable as the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs?

Optimist: I already told you I drive a Honda. Plus, it probably wouldn't hurt to bring SUV drivers down a peg or two. Who knows--if the gas prices go high enough and it hits them hard enough in their wallets, they might have to cut back on their cell phone use.

Item: Jim Jeffords of Vermont leaves the GOP, shifting precarious U.S. Senate power to Democrats.

Pessimist: So what?

Realist: Who cares?

Optimist: Can't be any worse than it was.

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