The Blog

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest--and Beyond

It's important to know your limits.

12:00 AM, Aug 15, 2007 • By LARRY MILLER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

SOMETIMES I'M SO stupid I amaze even myself.

There's a commercial running out here for an appliance store named Carlson's. (I've never been there, I don't know the guy, and they don't give me anything. I'm just mentioning the name because they make those clever, local ads that are often fun. Of course, if they see this and decide to give me thirty TV's, that would be fine, too, but I'll let you know first.)

Anyway, one of their ads is about a new washer-dryer they have that washes, dries, and folds the clothes at the same time. Are you getting that? At the same time. All you have to do is put the clothes in, press a button, come back later and, presto, they're all folded, cleaned, fabric-softened, and stacked on a rack inside: jeans, polo shirts, socks, towels, everything. One door, one button. I think it even sorts.

The guy who performs the ads--Carlson, presumably--is appealingly low key and funny in a dry, wry way. Very likable, which makes the ads effective. I keep thinking, "Boy, I've got to go to Carlson's one of these days and get a sink or something."

The point is, and I'm a little embarrassed to say this, but the first few times I saw the ad I thought it was real. I thought it was folding the clothes. I knew it wasn't, because it couldn't. You can't put dirty clothes in a unit that cleans, dries, folds and stacks. It's a joke, and the guy's teasing. Obviously; and you'd have to be an idiot to think otherwise.

Well, then, I'm an idiot, because I thought it was real. Just for a few seconds, maybe, but I actually looked at all those clean clothes each time he opened the door and thought, "How in the world do they do that?"

Maybe I was tired and only half watching (I hoped). Maybe I was having a snack and chasing some potato sticks around the plate. Maybe I was reading or playing solitaire. Maybe I was making out with my wife like a sophomore, or engaged in the kind of deep thinking I do so often.

Yeah, and maybe I was tequila-drunk with John Saxon and arm-wrestling over scorpions nailed to the table.

No, there's no way around it. I thought it was real. Briefly, but I thought it was real.

YESTERDAY I WAS DRIVING with one of the kids, and he asked why the car had so many noisy safety gadgets, and it sent me into a big speech (so rare for me) about the over-safety-fication of American society that insists on protecting us when we don't need it and haven't asked for it. Yeah, he agreed, and brought up how they're not allowed to run or wrestle on the playground at school. "You know what the sign at school should say?" I asked. "No playing on the playground."

He laughed, which always makes any father feel good, and then I said, "You know one that's really been bugging me? The new Lexus ad for the car that parks itself. Parallel parking is a big part of learning to drive a car, and a source of pride. I don't want the car to park itself, or do anything by itself. I take care of my own life, and so will you."

My son looked at me and said, "They're joking."


"The car can't park itself. That would be like outer space in the future. It's a joke. They're kidding."

"Hold it," I said (but only after a long beat), "Are we talking about the same commercial here? I know the guy who does the voice over, Steven Macht. Never mind. The car pulls up to a spot, and he pushes something, and the thing parallel parks itself."

"Yeah," he said. "How would it even do that?"

"I don't know," I said, "Radar, electric eyes, cameras. I thought . . . I thought that's the kind of thing they can do today."

"No, it's a joke."

Later that night I asked him again before bed.

"Are you sure about that car? It can't park itself?"

"I'm sure, Dad."

Then, today, no kidding, just now, writing this, I called him in from the den. "Look at me. You're not kidding me, are you? That car commercial was a joke? It can't park?"

"Yeah, they're joking."

That's how dumb I am; and even dumber than that, because part of me--seriously--still thinks that car can pull up and park.

SOME DUMB THINGS are easy to laugh off when they happen, but some aren't. Here's one I just realized in the last week or two.

I thought we all wanted to win in Iraq. I really did. Isn't that dumb? Oh, I always knew a small chunk, the Ward Churchills, wanted us to lose and leave humiliated, that the lost blood and money served us right, because we had it coming; always had it coming; still have it coming. But they're not so small, are they?

And I guess I knew that politics is a dirty, foul, full-contact, no rules game devoid of any ethics, and that anything that weakens your opponent, anytime, is okay. It's not okay to me, but I knew it was okay to them. (If you think it's not both sides, look up what the Bush people did to McCain in the South Carolina primary of 2000).

By now I thought certain folks would see farther than the end of their noses and vanities. I still hope they will. I can't believe they haven't. I thought they wanted to win.

But there's a group I didn't know about. A large (and growing) number of Americans out there believes nationalism in general is bad, and American nationalism in particular is especially toxic, and that we are exceptional only in the sorrow we spread; that the only hope for the future is through international settings like the EU and the UN; that only a large, international apparatus can lead and ensure stability; that it would actually be a very good step forward for humanity if the United States leaves/loses/redeploys/returns home, shaken and guilty, unsuccessful, too flaccid and traumatized to act aggressively again, anywhere, for another hundred years. Two hundred. Ever.

I disagree with all these folks, but if you add them up it's a pretty big group, and that's what I didn't realize: No matter what our differences are, I thought they all wanted to win. They don't. On the surface or deep down, or hidden behind misplaced good will, they want us to lose.

There's one more, and this one is so dumb I can't even believe it myself. For years and years . . . Oh, I can't, it's too dumb. All right, I'll just say it. For years now, I thought the White House would begin getting smarter about communicating. Isn't that silly? I really thought they would get better at it.

AH, WELL, there you are, eh? Clothes that fold themselves, cars that park themselves, a country that wants to win, and leaders that aren't selfish or clueless.

As I said, sometimes I'm so stupid I amaze even myself.

Important addendum before you write a letter about the Lexus LS 460:

So I'm talking to Mike Goldfarb the other day, who, in addition to being a dandy writer, is editing THE DAILY STANDARD now. I'd just sent him this article, and he said he liked it and would run it next week (now), and it was fine, and so on, and then he said, "But you know what's funny? I thought that Lexus could park itself, too."

"Really?" I said, laughing. "I guess we're both dumb, eh? Okay, speak to you tomorrow."

I picked up my son later from baseball and told him, and he laughed, too, and said, "No, it can't. Boy, you writers think you're all so smart."

Then, the next day, I was talking to my friend Hiram Kasten, a terrific comic, and told him about it, and he said--seriously--"Boy, that is weird. I thought the car could park itself, too. But your kid said it couldn't, huh? Oh, well, they know way more than we do these days."

Later that afternoon I was in the kitchen here at the office and ran into Tom Schleuning, who runs the place, and he asked what I was working on, and I told him about the article, and he said, "That's odd. I know the commercial you're talking about, and I could've sworn it was real, too. Huh."

Back home that night the whole family and I, including the dog, were playing Go Fish, and I told my son that everyone I'd spoken to thought the car could park itself, and my wife said, "It can. Can't it?" and my son said, "Mom, that would be, like, 2097," and the little one chirped (as younger brothers will) "Yeah, that would be, like, 2097. Got any eights?"

I called Mike on a break from the game and he said, "That's funny, my wife thought it could park, too. I'll put the fact-checkers on it tomorrow."

Well, as you probably know by now (especially if you work for Lexus) it can park itself.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD fact-checker (who presumably spends the bulk of her time checking facts slightly more important for humanity than this), sent an email to Mike saying, "Hey Mike, the Lexus LS 460 does in fact park itself." Then she quoted Car and Driver, the Lexus website, Family Car magazine, Business Week . . .

By the way, I don't have a Lexus, I don't have plans to get one, I'm sure it's a fine car, and I don't know anyone at the company (obviously). Although, once again, if they feel like sending me thirty of them, that would be fine, too.

Hmmm. I'll be picking up the kids from practice later, and I can't wait to say to the older one, "Hey, guess what? It turns out you're not as smart as a fifth grader . . . and you are a fifth grader."

WHOA. WAIT A MINUTE. It just hit me. If that Lexus can park itself, maybe some of those other things can come true? Maybe all of Washington will get behind General Petraeus?

No. That car would have to park itself, wash itself, fly, spin, dance, sing and go back in time before that'll happen.

It can't, can it?

Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to THE DAILY STANDARD and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles and author of Spoiled Rotten America: Outrages of Everyday Life (Regan Books).