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A Chicken in Every Pot, a Bulletproof Vest on Every Back

September 21, 1987|KONRAD KELLEN | Konrad Kellen is a writer in Los Angeles.

Once, on a visit to Turkey, I was told by a citizen of that country: "Of course, you Americans are so rich, in your country everybody can afford a bulletproof vest!" The man clearly had a healthy respect for and a good understanding of the high standard of living in America and the quality of life in our country. I was bemused by his selecting the general affordability of bulletproof vests as a prime indicator of our living standard, contrary to the dreary economists who calculate my physical (and possibly even my psychological) well-being by the combined affordability of Monterey jack cheese, jeans, subway fares, Kuwaiti crude and somesuch. If the price of these items stands in better relation to my income than a similar ratio for the inhabitants of, say, the Dominican Republic, I am advised that I am living the good life.

How refreshing was the Turk's measurement by comparison! Moreover, his financial assessment was probably correct. Even though I have not of late priced bulletproof vests, I suppose that I and other average Americans can afford one. And if I dip into my reserves I probably can afford one for each member of my family. It made me feel good to know that what is truly essential is within my reach. Besides, the Turk was practically prophetic; whereas his statement might have been laughed at by a less sophisticated observer, the rash of freeway shootings this year showed that the man was entirely right to equate the possession of a bulletproof vest with a comfortable living standard.

Actually, one must assume in our angry and impatient society that the freeway shootings are only a beginning--a breakthrough, so to speak. Golfers, for example, exasperated with crowded courses and the resulting slow play, will without a doubt now carry rifles alongside their clubs and, after shouting "Fore!" just once, open up on the duffers who are in their way. Slow waiters will not be long for this world. Musicians hitting a false note or playing without sufficient fire, long-winded speakers, lawyers who lose a case or plastic surgeons botching a facelift--all these will find the vests a new and, hopefully, tax-deductible necessity.

Once this is in full swing, we'll have our pick--bulletproof vests with a Hawaiian design for vacations, "label" vests that will be sold only in boutiques, pinstripe vests for business use (especially during hostile take-overs), vests covered in black silk to go under tuxedos, and armored pajamas for roaming Romeos. Bulletproof pants and shoes will follow, and bulletproof lingerie for the ladies.

The police, in need then of even greater firepower than the average citizen commandos, will shelve their obsolete pistols and shotguns and resort to armored cars, bazookas and shoulder-fired missiles. And they will "patrol" from secure pillboxes at strategic street corners.

All weapons and bulletproof-clothing industries will flourish, except for the armored-car business. The reason: In a few years all standard cars leaving Detroit will be armored so that special treatment will no longer be required. The bulletproof-vest industry, of course, will explode with prosperity, especially because new ammunition in the hands of the public (for example, the armor-piercing kind, now requested to be legalized by the National Rifle Assn.) will require the design and production of second- and third-generation vest models. Vests will be the sales leader not only in department stores but also at thrift shops and garage sales.

Thus most people will be able to afford armored cars, and even poor people will have vests. Let my Turk hear that and die with envy!

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