Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Signs and Portents

     Twenty years ago a popular bumper sticker expressed a universal truth, that being “+$#% Happens.” This prompted our state legislature to pass a law banning obscene bumper stickers, presumably so the kiddies could maintain the illusion of an ordered universe a few years longer.
     I thought at the time, and still think, the censure didn’t go far enough. They could and should have outlawed them altogether. I mean if it’s a “privilege” rather than a right to drive on the roads that you’re paying for so that the states has your “implied” consent to seize your bodily fluids and gases without a warrant, surely we can stop you from putting writing on your car that I have to read when I’m stopped at a light.

     I don’t want to read it because it’s mostly moronic.

     I don’t want to read it because I don’t care what you, anonymous motorist, would rather be doing and so long as you have brake lights, I don’t care what your vehicle stops for.

     I guess the people who sport such stickers are hoping to connect with other motorists with similar interests, e.g. a car pulls up beside them at the light, the window rolls down and the driver says, “Hey baby, I see you’d rather be doing needle point too. Your place or mine?”

     Some people like to put pre-printed jokes on their cars, often about their car or their driving, presumably to suggest their great wit, but usually conveying to the reader, “I’m an idiot, and I’m proud of it.”

     Perhaps the purest example of this phenomenon is a bumper sticker I saw in Athens, GA in the early eighties which read “We want Russia between the hedges!” (“Between the hedges” is a local idiom for the UGA football field.)

     Of course, even if bumper stickers were prohibited, there’s other means of expressing your written message to an unwilling audience, graffiti in the bathroom stall for example. (Talk about a captive audience.) At GG’s Pizza and Wings there is a simple piece of graffiti at eye level above the urinal which reads, “No amnusty,” which I think succinctly pretty much sums up that whole debate.

     And there’s nothing I see keeping people from putting signs in their yards with political speech or the ten commandments, or telling us where you’d rather be, (although the latter might be grounds for divorce,) but this right, except for a flurry at election time, is rarely exercised.

     Unfortunately this isn’t so with businesses and churches. It’s natural that stores should want to advertise their wares, but when they want to couple this with lowest-common-denominator political speech as in “Doral Menthol 2 packs for $4. God Bless America!” I gag. And am I the only person who, when given a choice, shuns the business advertising “American Owned and Operated”?

     Many churches force us to read messages, but, after all, delivering a message is one of their primary functions. Some of these are clever – though I must admit none come to mind – but most aren’t and many make me want to bash my head on the steering wheel.

     There should be a standardized test people have to pass before being allowed to write church sign messages.

     There’s a church between Social Circle and Monroe, which shall go unnamed only because I can’t remember the name of it, whose sign once informed me on the top line, “Stop drop and roll,” and on the second, “Don’t work in hell.”

     I took this as a nonsensical series of commands (“stop, drop, roll” and “don’t work in hell”) until my children explained to me that “stop, drop, and roll” was a fire safety procedure and that the message writer was grammatically illiterate.

     And churches and church people sometimes use bumpers to spread the word. I don’t know about you, but I do not believe grace will visit me via bumper sticker. It’s not salvation; it’s a country music song. (Maybe it wuz drugs/And maybe it wuz liquor/But I found Jesus on a Bumper Sticker.)

     Once about ten years ago, even the Presbyterians resorted to bumper-sticker evangelism – and when I say Presbyterians, I don’t mean the wacky fundamentalist sect; I mean the common milktoast variety we all know and love. Some of them were sporting stickers saying “I’d rather be in church,” which caused me to buttonhole a Presbyterian minister in People’s Drugstore and tell him I was printing my own bumper stickers saying simply “I’m so bored” and that I’d be placing them just over the Presbyterian stickers.

     My plan worked. If there’s one thing Presbyterians can do, it’s network. Within a matter of weeks the stickers disappeared nationwide.

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