The American public is about to be afflicted with a pest we thought had been eradicated: the Energy Bore.

With gasoline going up 12 cents a gallon thanks to Congress and who-knows-how-much thanks to Saddam Hussein, it's only a matter of weeks, even days, before the mileage nuts come out of hiding.You remember them and their smug superiority: "Guess what kind of mileage I got on our trip to Iowa? 20? No. Guess again. 25? You'll never believe it: 27.4 miles per gallon! Want to know my secret? Keep the windows rolled up, never use the air conditioning and wash the tire treads before every trip."

Ever since Reagan took office, these people have been holding their tongues, quietly waxing their floor mats with flax oil twice a week ("Guess how long I've had these floor mats? Go ahead, guess"), and waiting for an audience.

I used to tell them that our car got such great mileage, we had to stop every 50 miles to empty gas out of the tank lest it overflow.

If the price increases spread to home heating, we'll have another kind of nut on our hands.

Remember the earnest-looking farmers who used cow flatulence to heat the house? Or the guys who had filled their basements with pigs or goats and got all of their natural gas from the manure?

Those goats have been down there for 12 years now, and their owner, who has lived alone for the last 11, is dying to tell you how he doesn't spend a nickel to heat the house: "Come on down the cellar - watch your step - and let me show you how easy it is. The goats do all the work."

We'll also be subjected to sanctimonious nerds in flannel shirts giving us "energy-saving tips": Turn the thermostat down to 40. Wear several extra layers of clothes indoors. Wrap the entire house in plastic. Sleep seven to a bed. Fill your attic with plastic fuzz. Eat a diet high in walrus fat.

It's been 12 years since the energy nerds have been able to berate us common folk for such energy-wasting practices as entering and leaving the house through the door.

Various high-minded policy groups and think tanks will soon be inundating us with thick studies purporting to solve "America's Energy Crisis."

The solutions will be different - more oil and gas drilling, more windmills, more pigs in the basement - but they'll all have the same common denominator: handing over truly monstrous amounts of the taxpayers' money to the industry behind the study.

If the price of oil goes much higher, the professional Texans will feel it's safe to come out of their bunkers. We'll have to listen to how the Lone Star state has a special can-do spirit, a rough-hewn independence, a freewheeling, open-handed style - at least until oil drops to $20 a barrel, when Texans are just like everybody else.