It is not right to call the vice president the spare tire. Mr. Meek did not know much about politics, but he knew something about manners, good and bad, and this was a clear case of bad manners. He’d also heard the vice president called bad seed, the Dark Lord, Satan, Pure Evil, and so on. But the one that bothered him the most was the spare tire. Mr. Meek did not know much about politics, but he knew that a spare tire was one that was rarely needed, dead weight, so to speak, and this sat wrong with him. One Sunday after the morning news shows, after months of thinking about it, he got into his Ford Focus and started on a road trip to talk about bad manners. Not about politics, which Mr. Meek did not know much about, but about ways to address one another. Even if, he reasoned, the vice president were the bad seed, the spare tire, Lucifer or the King of the Damned, it was still surely not politic (in the sense of not being polite, you see) to say so and to say so so repetitively.
Mr. Meek’s road trip took him through many towns, cities, states and regions. He’d thought originally of having a rally, if he could gather with him enough people of like mind, people who did not want to batter and chew on the heads of states or on anyone else, people of mild and sensitive dispositions like himself, and so he started by interviewing people in parking lots outside of grocery stores, malls, movie theaters and quick oil change garages. He asked as many questions as he dared, but found, to his disappointment, that people didn’t want to answer many questions.
In Lima, Arkansas, he found that he was lonely, driving through the American freeways night after night, and so he stopped in a pet store and bought the first of what was to be a long line of iguanas, which he raised in a terrarium in the back of his Subaru Forrester. Each night he brought the terrarium in with him to the Holiday Inn Express or the Comfort Inn, and each morning he returned the iguana to the back of the wagon. Iguanas do not like to travel, but they do like warm window seats in the sun belt, and this first iguana, as with all the others, liked to stretch out on the back of the back seat, basking in the bright American sun. It was inevitable that she would lose the tip of her tail to negotiations with windows and hatchbacks, and this too, became a feature of his road trips, from town to town the minstrel of modern etiquette, trying to find the standard by which we might be known, whether it be rustic but well-meaning manners, or polished but insincere, or some hybrid of the two. But what he found, in town after town, was a pattern of disregard thicker in the heartland than corn had been in his father’s time. He started to think of it as an accident, somehow, like the windows that snicked off the ends of his iguanas tails over the passing years. Something had snicked off the civility in public discourse, and it was almost rude now to say anything nice. If you can’t say something nasty, don’t say anything at all, he said to himself in an over-staffed car lot in Phoenix. The iguana bobbed her head and lay down in the sun, admiring Phoenix, admiring the back seat, and iguana had no rude thoughts at all.