It is 6 a.m. last Thursday. I am somewhere in the pre-coffee zone. Sandspurs prick my bare feet. I grab the Times off the lawn.
I pop open one eyelid. Miraculously, the pupil works and becomes fixed on a front-page quote that reads: "Oh, my God, no, no, no, no."
Whew! I haven't unfolded the paper and already my mind is muddled with images of doom: California earthquake _ is Mom okay? Typhoon in the Philippines _ are my in-laws alive? Charles Manson is out on parole _ is Mom okay? "Oh my God, no, no, no, no." No, what?
Finally, behold the headline: "Barbie: "Math is tough.'
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics had made front-page news. The Virginia-based group was fuming. It said the toy giant Mattel Inc. was sabotaging the mathematical aptitude of American females.
The "Oh-my-God" comment was that of a Virginia math teacher protesting Mattel's latest talking Barbie because, among her 270 utterances, she says: "Math class is tough." Another teacher called it "a subtle form of brainwashing."
Why, of course! That's why the Chinese, Germans, Japanese and every other disciplined, unpampered culture on earth are trampling America in math and science. They have no talking Mings, Helgas or Yokos.
Stupid me. I thought their kids just worked harder and watched less TV. But, no; Barbie is ruining our children!
So I called the president. Amazingly, I got though.
"Mr. President!" (gasp) "Mr. President!" I could hardly stop panting _ you know, the urgency of it all. "You are ichiban, numero uno, the most politically powerful man on earth. Mr. President, you must do something about Barbie. Yes, I know millions of Americans are out of work, paroled killers are loose and the Amazon rain forest will soon resemble U.S. 19. But Mattel's new Teen Talk Barbie _ muted since 1970 _ threatens to destroy my daughter."
PRESIDENT: "Calm down, please. The CIA has briefed me. We are aware that the double-agent chauvinist doll named Barbie is plotting against American women. But, you know, the election is coming, and, uh . . ."
"But, Mr. President, you rid the world of Saddam. Well, I mean, you got his soldiers out of Kuwait at least. Couldn't you bring Schwarzkopf back, have him organize a commando strike? Slip in every American home, cut all the Barbie tongues out and, you know, call it Operation Slip-and-Slit, or Operation Barbie-Tongue."
PRESIDENT: "Schwarzkopf is tired. He's been signing books all week. Look, let me switch you to Vice President Quayle . . ."
"Please, Mr. President, I beg you. I've spoken with the vice president. He just keeps saying, "I know, Barbie's outrageous. She should be saying, "Spelling is tough.' "
I made one last plea to the president to force Mattel to recall the Barbies and ship them immediately to Japan. But it was useless.
So parents, beware. Never mind that your 6-year-old daughter can flip on the television and see Michael Jackson grab himself. And never mind that when your children are home alone after school _ because your workplace has no day care or you can't afford it _ they can watch their favorite soap opera stars play musical beds.
Yes, it's astonishing that after hours of meetings, a faction of United States teachers with almost 100,000 members reached their brilliant conclusion: Barbie must be neutralized.
Nah, don't worry that drugs are easier to get in some schools than books. And, hey, don't worry that many teens guzzle beer before they know how to cut the lawn properly. The extinction of the American work ethic isn't important; save the males _ er, I mean whales.
The world picture has gone mad. Yet every day some group, committee or so-called leader rants about a new nick in the frame. Real priorities drown in seas of small minds with big voices.
I was reminded of this recently. I bought a can of tuna and a loaf of bread for a homeless man who occasionally helps me haul construction debris.
On the way to the dump, as he savored his tuna, I saw a bumper sticker depicting an apparently jolly jumping dolphin. White letters against the sky-blue shape read: "Save the dolphin, boycott tuna." Dolphins, you see, often die when they get caught in nets meant for tuna.
So I did what any rational American would. I grabbed the can of tuna from my helper's scraggy hands, tossed it out the window, and we went home and ate the dog.
Long live Barbie.
Rick Savid of Clearwater is self-employed in the hauling business.