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Di Leo: Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup with Basement Joe

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Fire roasted tomato soup

Illinois Review is proud to be sharing samples of IR columnist John F. Di Leo's popular soup series – one he's been writing since January 2021 – when President Joe Biden was first sworn into office. John's new book is available on Amazon.com. 

By John F. Di Leo - 

Introduction: Imagine, if you will, an alternate universe in which a confused old man – Joe Buckstop – stumbles into the presidency, and spends his entire term in his basement. Each evening, an aide walks downstairs and serves him his bowl of soup, and engages him in conversation about current events, in a losing effort to keep him hale. Tonight's episode is an excerpt from the ongoing series, "Evening Soup with Basement Joe," a fictional chronicle of the events of 2021, available in paperback or eBook from Amazon.

"Good evening, sir. I trust you're ready for a bowl of soup?"

"Wait! Don't come in!"

"Oh, sorry, sir, okay, I'll wait… hmm… I'll put the tray down here on the table for a minute…"

"Yeah! That's it! I'm on fire!"

"Beg your pardon, sir? Are you okay, sir?"

"Huh? Yeah, never mind, never mind… just working here…. gimme a minute … YEAH! Take THAT! Man… a little closer… a little closer… mmm… pick up some health… mmm… some gems… that'll help… YEAH! That's it!"

"You okay in there, sir?"

"Oh, darn it. Got me. Oh well."

"Whenever you're ready, sir…"

"Huh? Oh, right, come on in. Boss got me."

"I'm sorry, sir? I thought you were the boss around here, sir?"

"No, no… there was a boss… I thought I got him… he was on fire… but then I let my guard down for a second and he got me. I was too close. Rookie mistake. I should've held back."

"I see, sir. I didn't realize at first that you were playing video games, sir."

"Video games? Oh, umm, well, I think of it as strategic practice. You know, as the commander in chief, uh, um, I think this kind of practice is good for me. In case i need to make decisions in a war, you know."

"Certainly, sir. It can't hurt. All this practice clearly served you well in your Afghanistan decisions this summer, sir."

"Huh? Oh, right. Yeah. It helped. Sure. Couldn't hurt."

"So let's see what we have for you tonight, sir. Your cook said it's a Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup, sir. A reasonably traditional soup, I think, sir."

"Is it spicy?"

"I don't know, sir. The cook didn't tell me to warn you or anything, so I suppose it can't be too strong. But she did say it's made with fire-roasted tomatoes, so, you can use your own judgment, sir."

"Are there crackers?"

"There are always crackers, sir. Here you go: soup, crackers, napkins, spoons, sir."

"Mmmm… smells good… can't wait to dig in!"

"Interesting coincidence, sir, fire being all the news today, you know?"

"Fire? How's fire in the news?"

"The Chevy Bolt has been recalled again, sir. Didn't you see that news story, sir?"

"Chevy Bolt? Don't you mean the Volt?"

"No, sir. The Volt was a plug-in hybrid that only went 50 miles on a charge, then had to switch over to a gasoline engine. The Bolt is its replacement, sir, an all-electric car."

"Oh, excellent1 Another electric car on the market! That's great!"

"Well, sir, it might be, if it weren't for a few battery problems."

"Oh, I'm sorry, somebody got beat up, huh?"

"I beg your pardon, sir?"

"Who got beat up?"

"Nobody got beat up, sir… what on earth are you talking about, sir?"

"Come on, man! You JUST SAID somebody got beat up!"

"No I didn't. Are you hearing things, sir?"

"You just told me about a case of battery…"

"OHHHH…. I see. Oh boy. No, sir, it's an electric car, so it operates on a battery, sir."

"A battery?"

"Yes sir. A car battery, sir. A severely fire-prone modern battery, sir. It has to be plugged in to charge, sir. It's that kind of car. That's why they call it an electric car, sir. Because it runs on a battery."

"Don't be silly. All cars have batteries."

"Well, yes, sir, all cars do… but with traditional cars, sir, the car runs on gasoline or diesel (or sugar alcohol or ethanol), and while it runs, it charges a small 12 volt battery that runs things like the air conditioner, the headlights, and the radio, sir."

"Oh."

"So the battery is charged by the regular operation of the engine, on a normal car, sir."

"I see."

"But with electric cars, they don't have a fuel-operated engine; they run on a much more powerful battery, sir. And that battery has to be charged, so you plug it into an outlet that's powered by the electrical grid, sir."

"Oh, I like electric griddles."

"I beg your pardon, sir?"

"My mother used to have an electric griddle. She made pancakes on it. And french toast. Mmm… I loved that french toast. The French are great, aren't they? I love the French. Wish they bathed."

"Umm, sir, I don't think you heard me right, sir…"

"My mother got a lot of use out of that electric griddle. I think she used it for… ummm… those little things.. umm… little foods… what do you call little foods again? Hmm… come on now… you know the thing…"

"Hors d'oeuvres, sir?"

"Yeah, that's it! Yeah, she made those things on the electric griddle too. Back in the old days, you know. Now everything goes in the microwave, but not back then. Back in Scranton, where I grew up… hmm… don't know if you knew that about me, I'm from Scranton… what's your name again, kid?"

"Rocky, sir."

"Oh yeah, right. You related to the boxer?"

"Which one, sir?"

"Huh?"

"Which boxer, sir? The historical figure, the movie character, the rebellion…"

"Umm, I don't know… I don't know if I'm supposed to answer that kind of question…"

"So anyway, sir, the electric grid…"

"Oh, yeah, right, I was telling you about Scranton. Yup, Scranton, Pennsylvania. Scranton P.A., we called it. Sometimes. Oh, it was great growing up in Scranton. My mother made the best breakfast on that electric griddle…"

"Yes sir. So anyway, sir, these electric cars are plugged into the electric grid, which means the American network of electric power lines that feed power into wall outlets and charging terminals all over the country, sir."

"Neat!"

"And of course they get that power, from somewhere, sir… it comes from electric power plants, which convert the power of regular fuels into electricity."

"I don't understand."

"Power plants, sir. You know about power plants, sir. Nuclear power plants, hydroelectric power plants, coal plants, natural gas plants, petroleum plants, sir…"

"Oh, right. I know about them. I know all about them… don't forget wind and solar farms too!"

"Well, they're basically a rounding error, sir, but okay, you can certainly mention them if you want to, sir."

"Hey, we've spent billions on wind and solar, you know!"

"It wouldn't matter if you spent trillions on them, sir, their energy output would still be a rounding error, sir."

"Come on, man!"

"So anyway, sir, there's an electric grid, essentially powered by natural gas, nuclear, coal and hydro, sir. That's about 90%, sir. Then there's the idiotically-expensive wind and solar and biomass and so forth for about ten percent, sir. Or thereabouts, sir."

"You sure that's right?"

"Yes sir. No doubt in the world, sir."

"But we've spent a mint on wind and solar!"

"It's not like the public asked you to, sir."

"Huh?"

"The public is pretty happy with natural gas, nuclear, and coal, sir. They work. Hydro's great too, where it's convenient. The public loves them. But you politicians never seem to care about what works, and you always want to do whatever is the buzz on the cocktail party circuit, sir."

"You ever been to a fancy cocktail party, young man?"

"Probably not those super fancy ones, sir, no."

"When you've got people shoving envelopes in your pocket all night, they can be pretty persuasive, I'll tell you that!"

"I suppose so, sir."

"And the waitresses in those waitress outfits…"

"I suppose so, sir."

"And the legislative aides in their evening gowns…"

"You know you can't be sure those are all girls anymore, sir. You know that, right?"

"Huh?"

"So anyway, sir, to get back on track, the reason the issue came up is that people keep plugging in the Bolt into the grid, so that their cars can be powered by natural gas or nuclear or coal or hydro, rather than by gasoline or diesel fuel, sir."

"I lost you at the bakery."

"And they do all this to charge their battery so they can drive it somewhere, sir."

"Well, sure. That's why people have cars. To drive somewhere. I know that. Everybody knows that."

"But what you may not have heard is how often these batteries cause fires, sir."

"Huh?"

"Well, sir, in a compression-ignition engine, there's supposed to be a controlled explosion. That's how they run. The car engine is made of heavy steel to contain these little explosions, safely, and they power the transmission to move the car. Right, sir?"

"Huh?"

"But an electric car doesn't have a heavy steel engine. It's not supposed to have explosions, and it can't contain them if it does, sir."

"I don't know where you're going with this. Maybe I should get back to my game…"

"The problem is, sir, they DO have these explosions. Electric cars have to deal with all the risk of modern lithium batteries, sir. These batteries have a greater risk of fire than normal car batteries, sir."

"They do?"

"Yes. And when these batteries catch fire, it generally spreads to the rest of the car, and before you know it, you have a very serious fire event, sir."

"Oh."

"So Chevrolet – you know, GM – has been issuing recalls. Recall after recall, sir – all on this one issue, the various risks created by this lithium battery, sir."

"Well, but it's not real dangerous, right?"

"Real dangerous, sir? Well, I suppose it depends on how you define the term, sir. GM has issued several recalls on the Bolt, all for this issue… it's cost them over two billion dollars so far, sir…"

"Recalls are bad."

"Well, this kind, anyway, sir. And then they told Bolt owners not to charge their cars' batteries over 90%, because of the fire risk, sir."

"Well, that's weird…"

"Yes sir. And then they told Bolt owners not to leave the car plugged in overnight, sir, because of the fire risk, sir."

"But, isn't that how electrical car owners always charge their cars?"

"Yes sir. But not anymore, not for this one, sir. And then GM told Bolt owners not to leave their cars unattended while they're charging them, sir. They're supposed to stay nearby so they can keep an eye on the cars, because of the fire risk, sir."

"That can't be good."

"Yes sir. And then GM told Bolt owners that they should avoid indoor garages, and if they have to use one, to park up on the top floor, away from other cars, because of the fire risk, sir."

"Come on, man!"

"Yes sir. And the latest one that was announced this week, sir, is that GM says you should always park your car at least 50 feet away from any other car, just to be safe. Because of the fire risk, sir."

"Oh man."

"But I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, sir. You've been doing everything you can to try to force all the carmakers to go all electric in the next ten years, sir."

"Oh man."

"Yup, you're doing everything possible to make these cars ubiquitous."

"Huh? I've told you about using big words…"

"Sorry, sir. Ubiquitous, sir. Everywhere.  It means they're everywhere.  You're doing everything you can to make these electric cars – and the electric batteries that power them – absolutely ubiquitous, sir."

"Oh man."

"Yup, thanks to you, sir, these batteries – and all the risks that go with them – will soon be everywhere, sir. Just like California wildfires."

"Oh man."

Copyright 2021 John F Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based transportation and trade compliance professional, writer and actor.  A one-time political activist and former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, his columns have been published by Illinois Review since 2009.

John's first book, a collection of his short stories about voting fraud originally run in Illinois Review, is available on Amazon under the title "The Tales of Little Pavel."

The first volume of his new fiction series, "Evening Soup with Basement Joe," a political satire, set in a parallel universe not quite identical to the Earth of 2021… in which a confused, crooked old man becomes president, and a young aide brings down his nightly bowl of soup and engages him in conversation, in a losing battle to restrain the onset of dementia.  Volume one covers the first ninety days of this strange new world.

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