Saturday, September 24, 2011


Until now, I have never fantasized much about having super powers. Even as a kid, all I ever yearned for in that department was a pair of Springshus, which were advertised in the back of comic books with the promise that once you tied them to your feet their steel coils would make you hop like a kangaroo.

Back then, I was content to see the bad guys collared by the stars of those comic books, with their Batmobile, "Up, Up and Away" and "Shazam!".  For one thing, I didn't fancy wearing a cape, an accessory that, a friend recently suggested, would look even less compelling on me now.

Happily, the super power I have hankered for in recent weeks requires no special costume. All I wish for is the ability to will automobile tires flat.

First, I would bring down this hex on all drivers whose souped-up car stereos constantly boom with rap and other high-decibel art, bringing to the Brooklyn neighborhood where I'm living temporarily the subtle amplification of Kiss performing "Shout it Out Loud."

I'm trying to be reasonable here. I'm not asking for the power to melt the offenders' radios, or even to have their engines get only one mile to the gallon. Making tires suddenly flat strikes me as an altogether modest, almost polite solution to the problem. And a safe one, too, for I would never deflate while a vehicle was moving.

The light changes. Sonicman guns his engine. He flop-flops across the intersection and, mystified, pulls into the empty bus stop. He gets out of the car and surveys the flabby rubber on all four rims. How can this be?  He looks for glass or nails where he had been waiting for the light. Nothing. Must be a crazy coincidence. But then it happens again, and again, and to his fellow racket makers also, again and again.

My son-in-law interrupts this reverie to ask, as only someone with a doctorate in anthropology might, if I'd considered the possibility that the targets of my gentle retribution might keep their radios on, even turn them up, while waiting for a tow. I tell him I think this unlikely, for reasons he doesn't find persuasive.

Perhaps he has seen the advertisements that makers of the special ear-splitting, window-rattling sound systems aim at their eager customers. Like these from Sony: "All New Ways to Offend," "Disturb the Peace" and ". . . the sound your neighbors fear." Or this from Prestige Audio: "Put the over forty set into cardiac arrest." (For more on this noisome topic, click here.)

I persevere. Soon, the mysterious flats have become epidemic throughout the city, because I keep extending my campaign: to cars that honk the minute the light changes, to trucks that park in the bike lanes, to limousines that idle in the Wall Street district, and, finally, to all Hummers, on principle.

"FLATULENCE REIGNS!" cries the Daily News on page one. The Times assigns its crack investigative team to the story, but it's the paper's dedicated chronicler of matters local, my friend Clyde Haberman, who spots me outside Barney Greengrass reveling in the hiss of the softening tires on a double-parked delivery van. "So it's you!" says Clyde, who doesn't own a car either, and recently reiterated online one of his keener observations:

"Years ago, I asked in a column if it would be all right for a New Yorker in a crowded apartment to put a chest of drawers on wheels and leave it at curbside–observing all parking rules and taking a chance on theft. The very idea was, of course, absurd; you can't store personal property on the street. Why, then, is it O.K. to do that when the wheeled property is called a car?"

Right on! . . . And yet, I've been exposed, and am forced to give up my crusade. Nonetheless, I have the bug now, especially after learning that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will soon make cell phone use available on the platforms at several Manhattan subway stations. I reach for my own cell phone, which, mirabile dictu, has become a magic wand: press 1 for melt.