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.
Rubin putts along to Riverfront, where a cabbie apparently of South Asian origin asks him in strained English: "You can say that? He'll come and kick your ass!" Rubin assures him that's unlikely. The cabbie nods and turns to look at a bald man sidling up to Rubin. "You want a cab?" The would-be passenger, Paul Lefrak, a Broward County librarian rendezvousing with Rubin, declines.
"What do you think?" Rubin asks Lefrak, whom he knows through the Broward Anti-War Coalition.
"I wish the pants on fire was a little bit better," Lefrak replies.
"You want me to light him up?" Rubin asks.
A television cameraman interviews Rubin, who stutters through a diatribe on Bush's environmental policy flimflammery. Afterward, Rubin asks repeatedly, "Did I come off too stridently?" Didn't much matter, it turned out, because he could never find any indication that the interview, or another that a Miami crew taped, ever aired. He did get a mention in the Sun-Sentinel on his swing through Miami, though that story, in a stiff nod to equity, quoted a snitty Republican Party spokesman almost as much as it did Rubin.
With Lefrak riding shotgun, the POF heads to the beach via Sunrise Boulevard at a prudent 20 miles per hour, windows rolled down, Bob Marley wailing about standing up for your rights from the speakers on the trailer. No sooner does the contraption arrive then, swear to Christ, people actually start talking politics among the beachside tattoo parlors and touristy tchotchke outlets. "I need to start doing some research on who's running," one woman says.
A police car cruises by at a creeping pace. "Well, it is Fort Lauderdale," Lefrak cracks. "Twelve-foot-tall Bushmobiles are a dime a dozen." That doesn't stop a giddy bleached blond and a brunet with a diamond belly-button ring from fluttering over for photos with the totem.
Further south, a man with a haircut that appears something like a shoe box motions for Rubin to pull over at the corner of Las Olas and A1A. "What does this mean?" he demands, motioning to the trailer.
Lefrak explains: "Liar, liar, pants on fire."
"That's fucked up," the man says. He leans in close to Rubin's window. This looks like jaw-socking time. "I'm in the military, and I support President Bush. You should support our country."
"I do support our country," Rubin says. "I want our troops to come home."
Lefrak pipes up: "It's freedom of speech!"
"I think it's disgraceful," the military man says. Rubin makes nice and pulls away at the same strolling pace he has maintained all night.
Lefrak reflects for a moment. "I've never heard anyone call him President Bush," he muses. A moment later, a white Escalade rolls up on the POF's right side.
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The driver, a bespectacled 30-something on a cell phone, leans out of his window and glares down at the saggy Crown Vic. "Fuck you, Pinko!" he spits, then speeds north.
Rubin, unfazed, pulls over illegally, per his style, in front of Beach Bums, where the emcee decrees that he get a free shot. A bartender hands him a small cup of some candy-like pink sludge called Sex on the Beach. "To sex on the beach!" Rubin toasts. The emcee keeps hollering: "Liar, liar, pants on fire! Straight from Vermont! He came down to South Florida!" A crowd gathers, with cheap cameras popping flashes and laughter spreading like brush fire. A young man in a sailor uniform stands back and grimaces.
Then an unmarked police car pulls up. Two officers waddle out to tell Rubin to get this thing the hell off the road. He hands someone's camera back and piles in the car.
"Get it off the road," Rubin snorts. "Where should I put it? The sidewalk?" The cop follows until Rubin puts on his blinker and eases into a turn lane. The cop keeps rolling by. As Rubin turns past a hotel, a rumpled woman standing in its driveway begins applauding. There's no telling why.