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Remember that time, crossing the street, when you got strafed by a New World Order hulk behind the wheel of a Ford Explorer? Running down jaywalking squirrels was just his way of telling imaginary wimps in the home and studio audiences to "Suck it!"

For this grunting Konnan of the road, this petit bourgeois Mad Max, stop signs really read "Slow down if ya gotta, ya big hunkamanhood."

Or how about that silver-gray George Hamilton impersonator gliding past in his Jag or Benz with an anorexic Verushka pouting by his side? These two need somebody to think they’re having a great time looking bored with all their success.

Like so many of our fellow citizens who’ve bought into the ego-prosthesis scam, these virtual reality geeks are living in their own private theme parks. And central to their street performances, crucial to their "looks," is the custom-tailored automobile.

Except that there’s nothing unique about a mass-produced vehicle, and there’s nothing - if you can think past the end of your throbbing ego-image - that flashy toys will get you, except another tired role in another corporately designed movie.

Who, if he thinks twice about it, wants to look like a South African Boer riding out to check on the slaves in his fatigues and Hummer? And maybe the amphetamine high from that tight little Jeep is just a desperate substitute for cooling one’s heels in a comfortable place with a real hummer.

But what about the rest of us? What is it about new cars, anyway? Once we’re out of adolescence - when most of us still can’t afford a slick, new ride - why does the yearly transportation upgrade take on such weight, such near-obsession?

Of course, as we get older and more aware of wear and tear to our psyches and physiques, the various kinds of makeover become more important: A perm, a tuck, an implant, a lift. So driving a shiny new set of wheels off the lot is like copping a stylish new pair of frames for the ol’ bifocals, a jolt of euphoric ginseng cola.

As every good consumer knows, dreams are erected on material foundations, and a new Lincoln Town Car with plastic still covering the seats is one powerful dose of Viagra for the sagging self-esteem.

Hey, driving a funky old car would be like shuffling outside in your slippers and forgetting to put in your teeth. In fact, not buying lots of stuff, though it would give the credit cards a rest, might plunk us down face-to-face with intimations of mortality. We’re really bored to death with meaningless Stuff &emdash; or why else would we keep needing more of it?

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