From the clutter: a chocolate Barbie and red-light-runner protests

When you can't find the fax machine, it's time to clean up.

I am surrounded, not to say loomed over, by an appallingly random mess, most of it of a paper nature: files, expanding files holding more files, stacks of Weekly issues I haven't bothered to clip, fragments of paper scrawled with phone numbers but not names, pages torn out of magazines, avalanching stacks of printouts, books I'm halfway through and a clock that stopped three years ago. Over here, a guide to the Tarot; over there, one of three current work notebooks and the manual for my cell phone. (Someday, I'll know how to text-message. I'm sure of it.)

My defense is that much of this clutter is potential column material. When you "get paid for complaining," as my son describes this gig, you can't let any little pretext get past you, particularly since some weeks, all you've got is a 200-word idea and 800 words to conjure.

At this point, you have two options: Either pack enough Styrofoam peanuts around one lame subject to fill the space, or just admit you're throwing together a couple of semi-subjects and to hell with it.

This week, I prefer the latter.

Digging into the heap, I find the F.A.O. Schwarz toy catalogue that came a couple weeks ago. (Yes, folks, Christmas once again rears its ugly head.) This beautifully produced testament to the truth that Americans have way too much money contains items to make my Protestant blood run cold on nearly every page: the $5,500 replica of a vintage Coke machine, stuffed toys big enough to fill a Yukon, an honest-to-god couture rendition of your child's sketch of her dream ensemble ($800). But as my friend James Reel would say, carrying on about this stuff evokes a scenario involving a gun, a barrel and some fish. But then--aha!--the Barbie section catches my ever-searching eye.

Lots of people worry about Barbie, but I never did before. In fact, after watching one dogmatic feminist after another go down to defeat on the Barbie issue at the hands of a young daughter, I have a warm spot in my heart for The Doll. (I saw one of these women revise her position from "Tool for the Culturally Determined Objectification of Women" to "Empowering Role-Model for Girls" in a matter of weeks.)

But there's something new and sinister in Barbie-land. Versace Barbie ($130), the Juicy Couture Barbie Gift Set (complete with Chihuahuas, $100) and the wee Barbie Pucci handbag ($395) are, well, what they are, but Chocolate ObsessionTM Barbie® ($40) is just plain evil. This vixen has dark, glittering brown hair, warm-toned skin, "a shimmering gown of brown charmeuse and two-toned brown-black chiffon ... and, surprise! She smells like chocolate!" The doll closely resembles Catherine Zeta-Jones, who looks like she really might smell like chocolate, but still, this has got to be a sign of the end-time. We've got a nation full of increasingly obese kids, and what do we give the pudgy tots? An extremely thin doll ("the dramatic Model Muse body sculpt"), dressed to receive her Oscar and smelling good enough to eat. Be thin! Eat chocolate! Be famous! All at once! You just want to bite her.

Enough of that. I've now found a fuzzed-up Post-It that reads, "red light, honk," so we turn smartly to civic improvement. Tucson, among its many other distinctions, is the red-light running capital of the world. Naturally, I have a plan.

Here's the deal: Every time you see someone bomb through a red light, or slide through a left on the tail of the last legit turner, honk. (I am not normally a promoter of urban noise, but, you know, in driving, you need rules.) A blare or two is unlikely to affect the self-regard of that chatting mom in the black Navigator, but it would still be good to remind her, however fleetingly, of the world outside her rolling castle. And if lots of people honked at every Mad Max--if it became a trend, a matter of civic pride--it might actually have an effect. We'd need bumper stickers, of course: "I Honk for (your descriptive noun goes here)." Picture a moment when the light's just about to change, and everyone's stopped, and some fool comes screaming through. Just think how cool it would be if everyone sitting there simultaneously hit the horn and leaned on it.

Could beeping bring us closer together as a community? Stranger things have happened.

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