I roll the truck into a space in the grocery store parking lot, squeak to a shuddering stop (the brakes need a bit of work) turn off the ignition in the gentlest possible manner (there’s an electrical problem in the steering column), get out of the truck and shut the door (though it doesn’t shut completely anymore).
And then, the day’s lesson begins.
As I leave the truck, I notice a bumper sticker on the car parked in front of me.
It reads: “It’s all good.”
My first reaction: What the hell does that mean, it’s all good? What is “it?” And, if “it” is defined as anything but “good,” how can this possibly be?
My second reaction: You gotta be kidding! It’s not all good. In fact, a whole lot of “it” is anything but good.
I wonder what kind of moron slapped that sticker on the bumper of a car. I think about waiting until the driver leaves the store and returns to their vehicle. I could confront him or her, demand an answer.
But, no. If someone is goofy enough to think “it’s all good,” what could come of a discussion?
As I walk toward the entry of the store, I notice other bumper stickers, and I realize I have here, in this parking lot, an opportunity to gain some insight into what many people are thinking — or not thinking, as the case may be. The parking lot is a library of little notions glued to automobiles, each indicating the way the owners want others to regard them, and how they regard themselves.
So, I go to the library.
I walk down each of the rows of cars parked at the front of the store, taking note of the bumper stickers, and wondering what might be going through the heads of the people who signal themselves in this manner. We are, if nothing else, a nation of bumper sticker freaks and there’s a lot of communication taking place.
I, in fact, have a sticker of sorts on my truck. It is one of those fish that you see on many cars and trucks. In the center of my fish is the word “Lutefisk.”
The first bumper sticker that captures my attention reads, “I love my wife.”
OK, this one is easy: someone is either having an affair, or is married to money. Why else would this be appropriate for a sticker? I mean, it’s wonderful the guy loves his wife, but why do strangers have to know? More importantly, why does his wife need to see this expressed on a car bumper?
Next up: “Global warming is created by the sun.”
Ah, a “scientist.” There are a lot of bumper stickers out there colorfully displaying the owner’s shocking lack of education and disdain for scientific method. I should create a sticker stating, “I drove today – I left my dinosaur at home, in the garage.” I would make a pile of dough on that one.
“Only a liberal could turn a terrorist into a victim.”
How true. Why do we need proof in order to throw someone into prison, and why can’t we keep them there without the rights needed to procure their freedom if it is deserved? Those damned liberals ruin everything. A conversation with the mouthbreather who slapped this sticker on his or her bumper would be like a carnival ride: — cheap and mildly nauseating.
“I’ve had enough change, I want my country back.”
Avast, matey, a teabagger off the port side! The sticker is plastered on the bumper of a high-ticket vehicle. Perhaps the sticker should read, “I’ve had enough change, I want my country club back.”
Then, in a beautiful coincidence, on the bumper of the car parked in the next space, I find this: “Keep working, millions on welfare depend on you.”
Why not, “Keep working, the road you drive on depends on you?” Or “Keep working, the cop who protects our property depends on you?”
This bumper sticker reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a fairly young man, a heavy equipment operator who was out of work. He was complaining loudly about his lack of gainful employment. I commiserated and asked how long it had been since anyone offered him a job.
“Oh, I had a couple offers last week,” he said. “The first guy wanted to pay me eighteen bucks an hour. Can you believe that? Eighteen bucks! I ain’t gonna work for anything less than twenty-four bucks an hour, and I ain’t gonna work without good benefits. And for the other job, they wanted me to travel sixty miles. I woulda had to live in a trailer during the week. It’s the Mexicans, you know. They get all the jobs now. They’ll work for eighteen bucks an hour.”
The guy would be the first on his block to slap “Keep working, millions on welfare depend on you” on the bumper of his car.
Then, there’s, “Guns don’t kill people, guns kill dinner.”
No, a guy with a pneumatic bolt gun creates dinner for most of us on the killing floor at a huge, industrialized food plant. Guns are used to kill an innocent 12-year-old caught in a drive-by shooting, or a convenience store clerk working the late shift.
In the next aisle, I find: “Beauty is everywhere.” Please refer to the above-mentioned abattoir.
Several spaces down: “Welcome to America. Now speak English!” By all means, just like the millions of immigrants to the country at the turn of the last century. After a generation or two.
How about: “Born free, taxed to death.” Neither true, of course. But, thankfully, when the vehicle’s driver drops with the heart attack, the ambulance and paramedics, paid with tax dollars, can help him or her live another day.
Then, perhaps, my favorite: “My father is a Jewish carpenter.”
Mazel Tov! Someone call my broker, there’s going to be a run on shabbos candles.
And I find on one vehicle, these two stickers: ”Proud parent of a honor student at Pagosa Springs Junior High School,” and “Jimmy, #74.”
What a bonanza … one car, two signs of an epidemic disease.
With the first sticker, we have an indication of a parent’s utter ignorance of the quality of public education. Given the fact that a majority of students in our local schools are honor students, wouldn’t it be more meaningful to have a sticker that says, “Parent of a non-honor student at Pagosa Springs Junior High School?”
The second sticker further illuminates the situation. A recent fad among some parents is to proudly exhibit their son’s or daughter’s name and athletic jersey number on a sticker. What sad thing is going on here? Obviously, mommy, daddy, or both, are living their dimly-lit small lives through junior and his role as an athlete in a backwater school system. Worse yet, what are mommy and daddy telling junior? Are these the same parents who are convinced their kid will some day be the winner of a scholarship to the most vaunted sporting university in the land, a No. 1 pick in the NFL draft? Are these the same parents who blames their kid’s lack of prowess on the coach and demand meetings with the principal and superintendent to rectify the situation. Are they the parents who are blind to the lack of high academic standards and the marginal nature of their child’s classroom education? Who needs academic standards when you have Class 3A sports — the superhighway to sport success.
I decide I have spent too much time in the library so I head to the store, discouraged by my bumper sticker research. Yes, I saw some clever stickers, with funny messages I have not repeated here. But they are in a minority, in a different category from those that distress me. It is the serious ones that worry me, the shorthand expressions of political, religious or social points of view. It seems many of us suffer from cultural and intellectual ADD — a state in which sustained attention, complex thought and detailed expression are increasingly rare. We live in an informational environment that coddles and, in fact, creates a perilously short attention span. Our news is broken down to 30-second segments, to reductionist commentaries, show-biz-style presentations calculated to reinforce existing opinions, frequently delivered by loud oafs who pose as commentators and work as talk show hosts and, in some cases, by professional comedians, egos swollen by the popularity of their easy sarcasm.
Ours is the age of the Internet, where the average time spent on an item can be counted in seconds — the age of the two-sentence paragraph, written for readers at a fifth-grade level. We are becoming a society of stereotypes and one-dimensional caricatures, all moving speedily in a system in which labels direct actions.
And thus, the bumper sticker.
I figure I need to make a meal that is light, a diversion from my weighty parking lot/library experience.
I find a piece of reasonably fresh, extraordinarily expensive wild-caught halibut and I snap it up. I will season the slab with kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper. I’ll sear it in a heavy pan on the stovetop burner, skin side down, then finish it off in a 425 oven for 15 minutes or so. When I take it out, I will put the fish on a heated plate and tent it with foil. In the same pan, I will cook halved cherry tomatoes over medium high heat until they give up their moisture and soften, then I’ll toss in a mess of crushed garlic and cook for a couple minutes (taking care not to brown the garlic). In will go a handful of rinsed capers, the juice of one lemon, some chopped Italian parsley, a mess of herbes de Provence, a touch of sugar, and a quarter cup or so of chicken broth (I would use clam juice, if I had it). When the mix reduces by half, I’ll pop the fish back in the pan along with a couple knobs of butter and I will turn off the heat, stirring the liquid as the butter melts and emulsifies. A tiny bit of salt, if necessary, and the fish is ready to go. Served, perhaps, over some pasta mixed with butter, garlic, green peas and a sprinkle of shaved Parmesan.
I am pleased with my purchase, and as I leave the store, I spot one more bumper sticker.
It says it all.
“Where are we going, and why am I in this hand basket?”