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The most curious thing you notice when cruising Fort Lauderdale with a 12-foot jury-rigged statue of George W. Bush on a trailer is that people delight in giving you the finger. Sometimes, they shout at the hulking, smoking giant, resplendent in a spray-silver flight suit topped by a sort of lampshade, big as a garbage can, depicting that vacant gaze times three. Other times, they honk, then flip you off. And at still other moments, they raise the middle digit and then notice the fans in the back of the statue's pants that blow about strips of orange fabric to suggest flames.
Gradually the premise of the "Pants on Fire Mobile" hits them. You know. "Liar, liar..."
"Fuckers!" yells one gentleman who gets the joke as he guns his Cadillac Escalade SUV past the POF trailer on Las Olas Boulevard near downtown.
It's around 7 p.m. on the Tuesday that Dubya's reelection is virtually assured by the cadaverous John Kerry's triumph in New Hampshire. Yet Aaron Rubin, the latest in a daisy chain of Bush-dissers on the East Coast who have volunteered to chauffeur this burning Bush, is going for it. He has the thing parked quite illegally in front of the posh restaurant Indigo. Traffic crawls past him in the left lane. Diners gawk. Digital and disposable cameras flash. Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" blares from tinny speakers on the trailer.
"The point is not to get people angry," says Rubin, 50, a curly-headed real estate broker and lawyer who lives in unincorporated Miami-Dade County five minutes from the Broward line. "It's to get people to think. That's why it doesn't say 'liar, liar' on it anywhere. People have to use their own heads."
The baffled crowd on the sidewalk emits odd "Oh my God..."s and "What the..."s. A giddy waiter named Chip runs across the street to congratulate Rubin and ask whom he likes in the next election.
"My sentiment is ABB," Rubin responds. "'Anybody but Bush. '"
That's pretty much the thinking behind POF, the brainchild of Ben Cohen, the first half of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and founder of True Majority. The online advocacy network of 370,000 members opposes nukes, favors renewable energy and champions human rights -- all those frilly, liberal pipe dreams. True Majority drummed up donations so Cohen could pour $40 grand into building the POF in his garage. The colossus rides behind a dark-blue Crown Victoria with Vermont plates. The rear shocks are so worn that the trailer hitch rides a mere four inches off the street, scraping hideously on even the bittiest bumps. Stubby American flags flutter over the front wheels, motorcade-style.
"If I just took [Bush] at face value, I'd say yeah, sure, he's saying the right stuff," Cohen comments via cell phone from New Hampshire. "But you find out that a lot of the stuff he's saying, it sounds right, but it's not true."
True Majority is nonpartisan, officially, and so, ahem, is the POF. Indeed, rabid nonpartisans have volunteered since November to house and fuel the vehicle on its journey through New York, Philly, D.C., Atlanta, and Florida. (Texas is next.) Via his girlfriend, Rubin received an e-mail in late December seeking volunteers to pilot the POF. He responded in about 45 seconds, he says, and a couple of weeks later got the invite.
Gas and maintenance were to come out of Rubin's pocket (though the lawyer notes he got coupons for two free pints of ice cream), but he was thrilled. After the previous volunteer dropped the POF at his home January 25, he spent more than 20 hours during two days parading around Broward and Miami-Dade. No more relevant place to highlight Dubya's shenanigans, he figures, given the area's midwifery of the Bush presidency in 2000. Most spectators appreciate the POF message, though in Miami Beach, one veteran offered to drag Rubin off somewhere and shoot him.
Then there's downtown Fort Lauderdale, the land of perpetual turnover and hazy political awareness. When the hubbub wanes at Indigo, Rubin motors east. A fellow seated at a table hollers, "All you guys have a good night, man!" with his middle finger standing vigil among otherwise curled digits. "Go, Bush! Go, Bush!" he and two cohorts chant. Rubin, who apparently derives his self-defense instincts from squids, pushes a button on a device near his visor to release a thin cloud from a smoke machine on the trailer.
People stop and stammer.
"Oh my gosh!" an elderly woman says to her gentleman companion. "Pants on fire! That's witty!"
Someone yells, simply, "You got that right!" A young man with shoulder-length hair raises a peace sign.
"I have to think you would think it's a little bit funny, even if you like Bush," Rubin says after taking a wicked U-turn west. "And even if you don't, fuck him."
Rubin stops again and tries to explain the smoldering trousers to some diners at Bistro Las Olas. Someone mentions Bill Clinton's obfuscations about getting head from Monica.
Rubin responds that lying about sex doesn't compare to lying about war.
A man at the table tells him to please leave.