With me, my beloved editor, Jimmy, calls me up, makes disparaging remarks about my lack of initiative and then asks if I want to write a cover story, perchance to win some cheesy award. (He knows exactly which buttons to push. I like winning awards; sometimes, the cheesier, the better.)
Occasionally, we bump up against a deadline, and things get hectic. So I had this crazy idea to do a cover story in advance, on spec, and just have it ready if he ever called. It had started as a lark (sorta like my career, such as it is). I used to ask people, "What kind of a vehicle does a (jerk) drive?" Actually, I had been asking adults, so I used the word "asshole." (That marks the second time in two weeks that I've used that word in my column, which means I can't use it again for, like ... ever, which is a shame, because it's such a good word with such a clear meaning.)
I thought I could do an entire survey that would clearly identify what Tucsonans think defines an (jerk). Among some of the other questions were:
· What's a jerk's favorite TV show?
· While driving, where are you most likely to encounter a jerk? Running a red light? Speeding on the freeway? Taking up two spaces in a crowded parking lot?
· What kind of music do they play in hell? A lot of people picture hell as being without music, so I told them to imagine that there would be music of some kind. Unless Pope Benedict XVI changes that, too.
I decided to do it scientifically, so I read up on some stats and set out to make it as statistically pure as possible.
First, I looked up the demographics from Tucson. I got them from the Census Bureau and the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Then, just to check, I looked them up on Wikipedia. That site says that Tucson has "about 47 black people, a bunch of Mexicans, a whole lot of white people and exactly 36 androids built from the rubble of World Trade Center Building 7, which had been destroyed by a death beam fired from Air Force One." The entry had been edited by someone who called himself "Endor-7, Grand Prefect of the 9/11 Truth Squad and Drug Co-op."
Anyway, I got the demographics and set out to ask my many questions. I was dealing with women, young people and probably a few religious folks, so I changed to the use of the word "jerk," because it wouldn't be right to use "jerk" sometimes, and the other, more powerful, word at other times.
I did the entire thing and presented the idea to Jimmy. It went over like a turd in a punch bowl. Oh, well. If P.J. O'Rourke had pitched the idea of an (jerk) issue, it would have been seen as daring and out there. So that my efforts weren't a complete waste of time, I'll share with you some of the results.
This first section includes all of the responses, including those in which I used "jerk" and the other word, to that vehicle question. The results were pretty similar, although the top answer tended to get even more a majority when I used the "A" word. It's actually rather surprising that one response got a majority, considering the huge variety of vehicles on the road. But there it was, with a solid majority.
According to 56 percent of those surveyed, a jerk drives a Hummer. Tucsonans absolutely despise these things and the people who drive them, including David Caruso in CSI: Miami, whose acting style apparently requires him to channel both William Shatner and a 14th-century deaf mute.
Not only does a majority of those surveyed believe that jerks would like to drive a Hummer; they believe that every person who drives a Hummer is a jerk. In fact, the only way that a nice person could be driving a Hummer is if the Hummer were in the process of being stolen by an otherwise nice person. You could run IBM's Big Blue supercomputer for a month, nonstop, and not be able to come up with a reason that doesn't involve pretentiousness and/or selfishness for wanting to tool around town in a gas-guzzling armored car.
Coming in second, at 23 percent, were those little Hondas with the big, noisy tail pipes. (You can't call those things mufflers, because that's not what they do.)
In a distant third, at 8 percent, were pickup trucks. Many people went out of their way to mention that pickup-truck drivers get a bad rap and that they're actually decent folks, despite their apparently universal inability to park between two painted lines.
My favorite response to the vehicle question? I asked a 30-something firefighter what kind of car an asshole drives. He said, "A police car."