The world is turning into a tough room in which to do comedy.
The day after his State of the Union address, President Bush flew in Air Force One - a Boeing 747 - to Wilmington, Delaware - a distance of 98 miles - to give a speech on energy conservation. Talk about a mixed message. I don't know how much jet fuel a Boeing 747 burns up going 98 miles, but I suspect that if the President had led a convoy of Humvees to Wilmington and set fire to every gas station he passed along the way, he would have used less energy than he used on Air Force One.
When real life is this bizarre, it's tough to write a monthly humor column. In fact, it moved Garrison Keilor to despair. "It's a tough time to be doing satire," he lamented, "with things like that going on. How can you top that?"
Well, Al Gore took a run at topping it. A few weeks after being nominated for a Nobel for his work on behalf of the planet, it was revealed that he runs up electrical bills of $1,080 a month at his home in Tennessee.
A thousand dollars a month! A man greener than Kermit the Frog is spending a thousand dollars a month on electricity?! What, does he never turn out the lights?
He's lucky he doesn't live with my father. Dad used to follow us around the house turning off everything we turned on. I'd walk into my room, turn on the light, and be plunged back into darkness before I could get to my desk, three steps away. If I left the stereo on and went to the bathroom, it'd be off when I came back. He'd stand behind me while I perused the refrigerator and say, "That's not the television, it's the refrigerator; if you want to stare at something lifeless, go in the other room and watch Ed Sullivan. Now CLOSE THAT DOOR!"
Apparently things were - and are - different at the Gore house. Of course, "house" may be the wrong word here. Al has eight bedrooms and a pool house, which is roughly eight bedrooms and a pool more than my place. I'm willing to concede that you need more electricity to power a manse than a beach house, but that's fifteen times what I pay. Hell, for a thousand dollars a month, you oughta be able to light up Mt. Rushmore.
In fact, the last time I heard of a house with electrical costs like Gore's, I was a deputy district attorney, and I was preparing a search warrant for a house where we suspected they were growing marijuana hydroponically. The outlandish electric bill was part of our probable cause.
Gore's spokesperson, Kalee Kreider, explained that "The Gores' home is ‘carbon neutral,' meaning that the overall household use of carbon-based energy, like coal-fired power plants and natural gas, is offset either by more fuel-efficient technology or through programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas-producing energy."
I doubt Ms. Kreider actually thinks those words respond to the question of how the ex-veep manages to spend a grand a month on electricity. I suspect she's just trying to emit enough carbon-based vapors to provide overall visual acuity reduction approximating a level at or above the threshold numbers for reducing or offsetting comprehension-efficient communication, thereby rendering nugatory the intelligibility quotient of a neutral examiner.
But even if the Gore home is being powered by a herd of hamsters racing through a forest of tiny wheels and generating no greenhouse gases whatsoever, a grand a month for electricity far outstrips my ability to make stuff up. How in hell am I supposed to charge this publication hundreds of dollars for laughs when the newspapers are providing 'em for a quarter?
And providing them at Hall of Fame levels. I picked up the paper and read this from the Associated Press - an organization not, as far as I know, in the business of producing satire: "TIJUANA, Mexico - The police department has issued about 60 slingshots to officers in the violent border city of Tijuana, where soldiers confiscated police weapons two weeks ago on allegations of collusion with drug traffickers."
Slingshots. They've actually taken away their guns and given them slingshots. How can I compete with that? If you sat Hunter S. Thompson and Edgar Allan Poe at a table and provided them their drugs of choice for a week, they couldn't make up anything more outlandish than that.
Now don't misunderstand me. I have no idea whether the corruption in the Tijuana Police Department has gotten so bad they had to take their guns away. I have no clue whether disarming them was a good plan or a bad one, and I don't know whether Mexican culture will respond to unarmed police the way British culture has.
But I do know this: A slingshot cannot be operated by human agency without putting out someone's eye. I'm not quite sure just how that works. I'm not sure whether it's medical, mechanical, or the product of divine intervention, but my mother made it quite clear to me that if I ever so much as touched a slingshot, some kid . . . somewhere . . . would lose an eye and I would spend the rest of my life feeling bad about it.
And she was right. Despite her abjuration, I picked up slingshots a time or two. The result was a couple of hours passed missing birds, missing squirrels, missing trees, missing kids on bikes, missing passing cars, missing parked cars, missing my garage, and wondering where that kid lived who had lost an eye because I had played with a slingshot, and whether it would help if I went over and apologized.
Just as Mom predicted, I've felt bad about those poor one-eyed kids all my life.
So I was, of course, shocked that the Mexican government cared so little about its children. I had this vision of an entire generation of monocular Tijuana children playing soccer in the street with eyepatches on. I felt bad that Mom passed on before she could warn President Calderon of the plague he was visiting upon all those unsuspecting children.
But more than that, I was just astonished by the goofiness of the whole idea. It seemed to me obvious that passing out sixty slingshots to a bunch of men hired to police a "violent border city" cannot turn out well for anyone but the Mexican optometric profession.
Slingshots! Think about it. Isn't that, on its face, just about the goofiest law enforcement idea since L. N. Fowler tried to convince us we could identify "criminal types" by the bumps on their heads?
Imagine trying to stop a car-jacking by firing off a marble at the perpetrator. Imagine walking into a bank holdup, loading up your slingshot, and instructing the three men holding AK-47's on the bank patrons, "Drop your weapons or I am gonna give you such a bruise!"
Come on, folks, this gives new meaning to the term, "bringing a knife to a gunfight." Not only can you not deter criminals with a slingshot, you can't deter vandals, drunks, or mildly delinquent ten-year-olds. They're all going to continue with whatever they were doing before the police stumbled upon their nefarious activity, only now they're going to do it with an occasional ball bearing zinging off a wall behind them, or a lamppost beside them, or the forehead of a lady sitting in her living room watching Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste a block away.
And for those seriously in need of a few laughs and not able to come up with the cost of a newspaper, the gods provided The Anna Nicole Smith Fiasco, the worst dramatic production since Springtime for Hitler. This, as near as I can determine, was televised on the off-chance there might still be a few dozen people in our country who had not yet lost all respect for our judicial system.
What, did they just drive a clown car up to the courthouse in Florida, and all the participants in this case poured out?
So help me, if my phone worked on household current, I would have eclipsed Al Gore's monthly usage every night. My non-lawyer friends were calling constantly, begging me to reassure them that this was a show like Judge Judy or Dr. Ruth or SpongeBob Squarepants, and not a real court case.
Had we passed out slingshots to every American, Judge Larry Seidlin would have come away with so many bumps on his skull that Fowler would have diagnosed him as a serial murderer.
But my favorite example of life imitating comedy comes out of Lodi. That's right, Lodi, California. Seems the Lodi Nut Company has decided to close its factory gift shop because the cost of complying with homeland security regulations would be prohibitive.
According to the Lodi News-Sentinel, the Department of Homeland Security has informed Lodi Nut that the plant must employ surveillance cameras and electronic gates and all employees must wear identification badges. Honest. At a small town nut factory.
I am greatly reassured that the United States Department of Homeland Security has ferreted out Al Qaeda's nefarious strategy of targeting U. S. cashew outlets as likely poison distribution centers. I'm especially impressed by their requirement that anyone seeking to purchase nuts at the gift shop would be required to first register at the plant office. Can you imagine having to walk a hundred yards and fill out a form to buy a bag of peanuts?
Lodi Nut couldn't. They decided there weren't enough people who wanted the factory discount on filberts bad enough to get a federal security clearance, so they decided just to close down the gift shop.
I know I will sleep better tonight, knowing this hole in our otherwise impermeable cloak of protection has been patched. Al Qaeda's plan to poison all the fat people first scared the living daylights outta me.
But I am a little concerned about Lodi Nut's wholesale business. I'd hate to think this Homeland Security dustup might affect their exports. My understanding is they just landed a big contract providing walnuts to the Tijuana Police Department.
See what I mean. It's hard to make the news any funnier than it already is these days.
 If I had a spokesperson, I'd probably need a pool house, too.
 Obviously, Ms. Kreider didn't know some of us out here are fluent in spokespersonese.
 Yeah, I know it's 35 cents now, but "a quarter" sounded better. I can't come up with better material than the newspapers, so I have to try to make it up on style points. Sad.
 And, after providing them the drugs of their choice for a week, you would have to declare bankruptcy.
 The thing I always loved about phrenology was that it seemed to me to fail utterly to take into account the bumps on the head the suspect often suffered during arrest. "Either this man has the knob above the temporal lobe indicative of a murderous disposition, or that's where the cop hit him with the baton," just didn't seem to me to advance the ball much.
 It also makes it sound like a reasonable option - at least by comparison.
 At least not beyond the time it takes them to stop laughing.
 It doesn't; it's hooked up to the battery of my Prius.
 Obviously, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a terrorist front organization: "Oh Lord, strike in Lodi again!"