Are Americans cheap?

My friend Cleatus, among many other things, is a compulsive statistician.

He’s one of those people who end up getting beaned in the head at the ballpark because he’s busy writing on the scorecard. Cleatus knows his average blood pressure at any given time of day. He knows average rainfalls for major world capitals. He knows how many Beatles and Marx Brothers there were (seven and five, respectively). Cleatus knows numbers, all right; they won’t even let him in the audition for “The Price Is Right.”

So recently, Cleatus hears me complaining about four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline and stops me.

“You know, the thing about Americans is that we’re all such cheapskates. We never want to spend a nickel more than we have to,” he says.

Cleatus goes on the say that what irritates him most about the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Cartagena Columbia isn’t that the men, who swore to take a bullet to to protect our Chief Executive, took prostitutes to their hotel rooms.

“It’s that they haggled over the price,” he says.

He goes on to cite several other examples of how America has really chinced out around the world, all but ruining its reputation abroad.

“All you hear about our exploits in the Middle East is how much it costs. At least if you’re going to run through a country with your army, don’t act like you left your wallet on your seat back in the C130. Do you have any idea how that sounds to the world community? We didn’t bat an eye spending billions on World War II, did we? Heck, we even built two atomic bombs. But today? No more Space Shuttle. No more Mutually Assured Nuclear Destruction. Why we don’t even want in to invest in the development of the simplest innovations, like bulletproof hoodies or mandatory acting lessons for celebrity trial lawyers. People must think we’re real Scrooge McDucks.”

I tell him that I still think four dollars is a lot for a gallon of gas.

“Yeah, well, in Europe, gasoline is a bargain at eight dollars a gallon.”

“Libyans pay about sixty cents a gallon,” I say, trying to show Cleatus my mastery of global realpolitik.

“But who wants their radiator shot out while you’re trying to fill up?” he asks. “Americans pay a much lower price for gas, relatively speaking. Besides, plenty of other things you regularly use are far more pricey than a gallon of gasoline,” he says.

“For example?” I ask.

“According to Vince Lombardi, you’re never supposed to argue with ‘anyone who buys ink by the gallon.’”

“Right,” I say, “I think he meant don’t cheese off the press.”

“Actually, he was alluding to the cost of printer’s ink, which is about $70 a gallon. That’s why he decided to become a football coach; Gatorade is only about ten bucks a gallon.”

“Wow.” I whistle. “I didn’t know that.”

“And take that white correction fluid you writers are so fond of. That stuff goes for about $350 a gallon. I don’t hear you complaining about that.”

“Gee, and I do go through a lot of that stuff,” I say.

“See?” Cleatus knows he’s found a nerve. “Hot sauce for your taco lunch? Seventy bucks a gallon. Mineral water to quench the burn? About eight bucks a gallon. Painting your house? How about $22 per gallon. Rinsing solution for your contacts? Can you see your way clear to about $80 a gallon?”

“OK, Cleatus,” I say.

“A drinkable single-malt scotch? Plan on $150 per gallon.

“I think I need one right now.”

“Your wife wants a nice French perfume for her birthday? Get ready: $19,000 per gallon.”

“She always says she likes the domestic stuff.”

“You know what vampires—and hospitals—pay in fees for human blood? Guess.”

“I can’t imagine.”

“About $1,500 per gallon. And you don’t hear vampires whining about the cost of blood, do you?”

“No,” I say “And I’ll bet that’s not even for high test.”

“And for those into blow-gun hunting and fishing, cobra venom is $175,000 per gallon.”

I pause. “Can you get that at the drive-thru discount pharmacy?”