Ah, traffic. It’s the wonderful place where Driver’s Ed, Sex Ed, and free speech collide. At 8:00 am yesterday morning as I was driving my mother to work, an older black truck carrying a father and son drove up in the lane beside us. There was nothing noteworthy about the truck itself, but a very large, white decal immediately captured my attention. This decal was of a hand that has the ring finger folded but the rest up- a particularly crude sexual reference to display publicly. I was like a horrified moth whose gaze was pulled in by a vulgar bug-zapper. I did my best to ignore it. About 5 minutes into the drive my wonderful mother, who usually has knowledge of such ‘worldly’ things, glanced over at the window-crowding decal as we stopped at a red light. “Three fingers up? Isn’t that the Boy Scout symbol?”
God Bless Texas and Save the Queen. If I was ever going to pee my pants from shock and laughter stifling, that would have been the moment. Most parents and teens dread “the talk” about sex, but no one mentions the awkward moments when vulgar things are shoved into your face and you have to explain to YOUR parents. Sex Ed in reverse is no picnic either.
“Um, no. This is a particularly crude hand reference to a sexual act where the pinky finger goes where the sun does not shine” I explained. My mother’s eyes grew to saucer size and she promptly gagged. “Oh! Oh my! Why would anyone put that on a car? And while driving his kid around?! Oh ew. Besides, the poor Boy Scouts are these three fingers up. Sorry, Scouts! Dear me.”
This incident rivaled an outing I had with my mother in law as we shopped for some wedding items in Houston. With little success locating strings of pearls, we tried a party store we looked in the bead section. As we turned from the colorful strings of marti-grasesque options, we turned to have large plastic dongs hanging at eye level. They were on plastic pearls at least. It was a smile and shrug situation; I just told her I wouldn’t be using the accompanying cake mold at the bridal shower and walked on.
When I was younger, I enjoyed studying law, particularly the controversial cases on the First Amendment. I still conclude that the first implied unalienable right is the right to stupidity- hence the first Amendment to express it. The challenge to define what is obscene is an interesting one. It has recently been ruled that purveyors of pornographic material cannot watch it in the car on a screen that can be seen by other cars, at the risk of children and others seeing the material.
I agree with this ruling- but then what about the bumper stickers which bear obscenities? It is obscene by definition and, shocking as it may be, most kids do learn how to read in schools and at home. Walking with a child past a car with all sorts of crude words and symbols provide equally difficult moments. Yes, the knowledge will eventually come, but I’d prefer not to explain the many names of oral relations in a fast food parking lot as laughing men revel in the moment. As my sister’s friend Whitney said, “Don’t they have grandmothers?!”
When it comes to decals and stickers, I’d prefer not to endure ‘shock value’ from a stranger. Likewise, phallic sticker symbols and swinging testicle ornaments make me want to roll down the window and yell, “Keep it in your pants!” Such stickers and items fall into the category of what we Allen women label, “Rude, crude, and socially unacceptable!”
Now, I am not totally on my high-horse. My alma mater does boast a few innuendos in common school spirit speech, and the crudeness of military men is legendary. I have no issue with Rhett not giving a damn and there are many asses mentioned in King James’ Bible. I would rather roll my eyes and face awkward moments than take away someone’s First Amendment right, as much as I believe in protecting young children from certain knowledge. Crude sayings and stickers are not new, and they aren’t illegal. There’s a reason it’s called poor taste.
My mother often quoted a great movie line to me as a child. “Your right to muddy your waters ends at my front door.” Yesterday, my poor mother had some mud slung at her car windshield. In his own way, he did achieve a form of shock and “Ah!”
Little known face: one does not need to be arrested to try out the Miranda Right. As comedian Ron White said, “I had the right to remain silent. What I lacked was the ability.” Perhaps we value our freedom to express ourselves a little more highly than we should. We spout off every thought or update statuses with angry rants simply because we can. One of the most difficult and valuable lessons I’ve learned over the past decade is that sometimes your greatest power is in withholding your opinion and voice. My husband often says that it is the quiet ones you have to watch out for.
Certainly there is a time not to remain silent; I am all for speaking up and out. Let’s just be sure we have something worth saying- particularly if it is going to be stuck to a vehicle. Otherwise, there will be a woman knocking at the window at a red light, asking you to explain its meaning to her mother.