Thursday, June 30, 2011

Brother, can you spare a gas can?

        As a sometimes environmentalist, I’m familiar with having to defend policies or procedures enacted to preserve our natural resources. This is, admittedly, not always an easy task. Nor has it improved since our relocation to Kansas, less the fabled (if not iconic) heartland as much as the heart of the uber-conservative Republican mindset for whom the environment is something to be harnessed, harvested and exploited, and environmentalists nothing more than pot-smoking hippie activists. Here, the common view is that the government is the problem rather than the solution, that most regulations and legislation are senseless and intrusive, written by idiots, lunatics and Democrats. Which, of course, are the same thing.

Sensible topics for discussion at the local coffee shop do not involve anything associated with global warming (unless in ridicule), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the EPA, ANWR, off-shore drilling, PETA, Barney Frank, gays, energy from coal, the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate or welfare. (God forbid one should broach the welfare-versus-farm subsidies issue, a surefire conversation stopper; it’s like asking for a chicken sandwich at the sale barn on auction day.)

A sane liberal, Democrat-voting environmentalist learns to keep his opinions undisclosed and hidden. For the most part I’ve done just that, though a situation has arisen that leads me to believe that preserving the environment is one thing, and wishing for a massive earthquake to send California sliding into the deepest depths of the Pacific quite another.

To my friends in the Golden State, I can only offer my condolences. I’d miss you. But let us not forget that it was you, and you alone, who allowed the passage of the CARB-compliant legislation that has now been amended into national Environmental Protection Agency standards. 

And did I say “amended”? Subsumed, enlarged, expanded, engorged, broadened, augmented into a policy even more stringent (breathtakingly so) and restrictive. 

Of course, living in the hinterlands I knew nothing of this until it was too late.

It started when Lori started itching. Now, itching isn’t unusual summertime behavior for active Kansans, not with the hordes of bloodsucking insects infesting the state. This year’s moisture and humidity have created fertile conditions for chiggers, in particular. It’s to the point where any trip outside, even if only to walk from the house to the car, is tantamount to rolling in a field of alfalfa. Red welts pop up seemingly at will; this evening while barbecuing I received a half dozen new bites and I’d been on a concrete porch the entire time! 

Her itching turned into a rash that spread, well, just about everywhere. Her face swelled up, one eye almost closed—she was the very epitome of misery. She’s always been deathly allergic to poison ivy and it was soon clear that she’d tangled with a patch and the patch had won.

Fortunately, we had on hand several brands and varieties of poison ivy treatment. Unfortunately, none of them worked. We bought new medications and tried a dozen homeopathic recipes; she soaked in epsom salts and vinegar; she liberally powdered herself with Gold Bond; but mostly she itched and scratched and in every which way grew worse.

It had to have come from the garden, but which one? She’s been working at a test plot in Marysville (the Garden From Hell, I call it—don’t ask), but when I last studied it I could find no leaves of three. Nor did our garden show signs of poison ivy. I’m not expert nor am I a botanist, but it seems that young growths of poison ivy closely resemble velvetweed in its infancy, or even tiny walnut saplings. Considering that the perimeter of our garden is a riot of indiscriminate growth, it’s probable that somewhere within that green vegetative maze is a strand of two of her bane.

Clearly, it had to go. So I ordered a string trimmer, a good one, even an expensive one, alleged to have a one-pull start and enough power to cut down the Empire State Building. 

I ordered extra industrial-strength string, a fancy “no-brainer” attachment (definitely needed in my case), and some synthetic oil for the gas mixture. Then I dropped by our local hardware for a new two-gallon gas can. 

Which is where things went bad. Mark didn’t have gas cans as I knew them: he had the new EPA-approved, California Air Resources Board-compliant gas cans. They were still made out of plastic, still chigger-welt red, but they sported a fancy gizmo that was part pump, part pressure valve, part lock and part spring mechanism in place of a simple funnel.

The worst part: they cost $5 more than the previous versions.

With assistance from several other customers, we scrutinized the new spout. We read the directions and tried performing them step by step, only to be rebuffed. We tried it upside down and backwards, we followed the instructions in reverse order, we swore and fumed and used language we almost felt ashamed to use but felt warranted under the circumstances.

“How the *@$# does it work?” I asked.

“Damned if I know,” Mark said. “That’ll be ten bucks.”

According to the EPA’s website, the new cans reduce gas fumes from escaping into the environment. What the EPA failed to disclose is that the new spouts refuse to dispense gas. A very brief online check revealed hundreds of customer complaints, most of which stressed that they might indeed prevent gas fumes escaping into the atmosphere but they also leak everywhere but out the nozzle, which somewhat negates their primary function. Review after review excoriated the new spouts. 

For 26 years I made a living working with my wits and my hands. The new CARB-compliant spout was beyond my meager capabilities. As advertised, it was definitely spill proof. I could turn the can upside down and sideways and nary a drop would escape. 

Nor would a drop, a trickle or a gush escape from the spout, despite my most fervent efforts to fathom the instructions. When I finally managed to get gas flowing, it was around the spout’s base where it screwed into the can. Spilling a half gallon of gas onto my patio, my pants, my boots and into the atmosphere was the final straw. I ended up rooting around in the shed until I found another can that would substitute.

I’m all for saving the environment and protecting our air and water. I’m not for mindlessly restrictive policies that turn the simplest pieces of basic equipment into a nightmare of safety features that make them not only much more expensive but utterly useless. Somewhere along the line we’ve crossed the border of rationality into a wilderness of regulations that benefit only manufacturers, lawyers and pencil-pushers. We might be saving a small fraction of our natural resources, but we’re driving thousands of Americans insane in the bargain.

If and when the human race gets serious about preserving the planet, it won’t be through over-engineered gas cans. What’s needed, desperately so, are fewer regulations, fewer bureaucrats, fewer states (adios California!) and fewer people. I wouldn’t bet a plug nickel on any of it.

The good news is that the trimmer performed flawlessly. The bad news is that old-style, functional gas cans are no longer being sold. That hasn’t stopped me from searching high and low on the Internet, though. Brother, please, have mercy—can you spare a gas can? 


Wes said...

I had to buy one of the high tech gas cans also. Once I figured it out, I can get gas out of it. Of course, on mine, once it starts flowing it goes all over the top of the lawn mower and flows down onto the top to lay in grooves and fill them up. I hate it. So much for saving the environment. Instead of fuel going into the lawn mower, it goes everywhere and fouls the environment more. Ah, modern life.

Carol said...

Learned a lot reading your column. How frustrating! So SORRY to hear about Laurie's exposure to poison ivy. Hope she's better. Nasty! Please tell her we're thinking of her. Post something when we can stop worrying.

Tom Parker said...

The new cans could be a metaphor for the ridiculous extent we go to to save ourselves. I agree with you, Wes--I spilled more gas into the environment than the old can would have ventilated in a thousand years. Stupid!

Suzanne said...

You also can't have any baked goods with fancy silver dragees on the icing! Why? Because a lawyer in California decided to bring a lawsuit that would restrict the sale of dragees for public safety.

Now, never mind that you'd have to eat a railroad car, no, an entire train full of silver dragees to cause any harm to yourself.

Seriously, I think our society is going mad. What would you give for one ounce of common sense?

Tom Parker said...

See?! California!! If nature can't cut that sucker loose, it's time the other 46 contiguous states dynamite the fault lines until it slides off. Barring that: execute all California lawyers, politicians, lobbyists, pencil-pushers and safety Nazis.

But hey, why stop at the California border? I like that idea...

shoreacres said...

What the &$*#^@!!!!!!!

I looked for six weeks prior to Christmas to find silver dragees for my fancy Christmas cookies. Those jerks.

Honest to (choose your favorite deity), I have just about had it with these regulators.

In Houston, the Head of the National Cemetery has decreed that no Veteran's family can utter the words "God" or "Jesus" in any prayer at their loved one's grave site unless they submit it in writing, and she approves it.

No one involved in the ceremonies can say "Bless you, and bless your son (or daughter)." Military honors are no longer allowed ON THE GROUNDS OF THE FRICKING NATIONAL CEMEMTERY WHERE MILITARY VETERANS ARE LAID TO REST.

I don't really care if someone prays or not. But unless I've misunderstood things for 65 years, anyone who wishes to pray at a private funeral ought to have the right to do so. I think that's what's known as a Constitutional right.

OK. I feel better. I hope Lori does, too. I was doing ok until I read about those dragees. If I'd known, I could have stashed some in my closet with my 100 watt light bulbs.

Now - as for the gas can... I have a pair of brand-new, old-fashioned, never used five gallon plastic gas cans. Whenever I finally make it north, I'll throw one in the car for you.

Anonymous said...

So your neanderthal republican neighbors are whining about losing the farm that's been in the family for 100 years, because of all the government regulations that make it impossible to do business. Never mind that it has provided a good living for them and incidentally fed thousands of people. Now your child has poison ivy and you can't buy an old-fashioned gas can! Now that's serious! Unfair! You just keep voting for democrats and environmentalists and everything will be fine.

Tom Parker said...

Anonymous: Congratulations--you missed the point entirely! But then, that's what I've come to expect from conservatives.

shoreacres said...

It took me all this time to find the little, almost-throwaway comment you tucked in: The worst part: they cost $5 more than the previous versions.

There's the bitter truth. There are a lot of people making a whole lotta money off much of this regulating that's going on. Some only manufacture the new products, while others legislate them into existence.

Follow the money, indeed. Sigh. But Happy 4th of July!