A reader out in Fairfax passed a pickup truck on the Beltway the other day. Aboard the bumper was a sticker whose message was, shall we say, unmistakably direct.
I'm cleaning up the message to be kind to young children and faint-hearted porcupines. But if you're above the age of 8, no matter your species, you can probably figure out the missing word. The bumper sticker read: IF YOU AIN'T COUNTRY, YOU AIN'T ----.
Now, The Missing Word has a lot less shock value than it used to have. But hearing it uttered in casual conversation is one thing. Seeing it on the Beltway, live and in color, is another.
So my reader immediately wondered whether it's illegal to sport a bumper sticker that contains a four-letter word -- and if it isn't illegal, whether it should be.
A check of the area's legal officials turned up none who could remember prosecuting somebody for a bumper sticker that says ----.
"Under what statute?" said a lawyer in the D.C. corporation counsel's office. "If Joan Rivers can use that kind of language in front of the Republican National Convention, how can I prosecute some guy for putting it on his bumper?"
"We tend to go on the basis of what the community really wants to see prosecuted," said a prosecutor in Fairfax. "I can't imagine setting aside drug busts and murders and armed robberies to try this sort of thing."
I can't imagine it, either. Nor can I imagine a law that would bar certain words. It would run smack into the First Amendment -- and the First Amendment would win, as it should.
What I can imagine is a little guerrilla warfare.
Pull up next to IF YOU AIN'T COUNTRY and check to see if he has a rifle mounted on the rear wall of his cab. If he doesn't, roll down your window and tell him what you think of his bumper sticker. I doubt if he'll roar right over to the side of the road and peel the sticker off. But if enough people give him the same treatment, he may get so tired of hearing it that he figures there's only one way out.
G.K. Duncan of Arlington signs his letter, "In despair." Why so dumpy, G.K.? Your letter was right on target. One might even say it was a fun letter -- if that sort of construction weren't the very thing that's driving you nuts.
G.K. discovered the following three phrases in recent editions of this journal:
From an Alexandria high school teacher: "One of the most talented, fun classes I've ever had."
From a public relations man, about the Kennedy Center: "A fun account."
From a father: "A fun family vacation."
G.K.'s reaction was the following poem: The Pied Piper said I know "fun" is a noun But just for a lark Let's move it around. Attach fun to "time" and to "thing" and to "dance" Or any old thing you may think of perchance So all of the people who followed his pipe Said ridiculous things from morning to night "Fun" thing, "fun" time, "fun" places became The "no think" of language regimentally the same. The Piper then played one glorious note 'Twas vibrant and mellow, a note with full throat And all of the people the "fun" plague had smote Called out all together as if from one throat: "Wasn't that . . . . A FUN NOTE?"
He is back on the bike paths of Rock Creek Park -- older, wiser, and more to the point, patched up.
Last summer, while keeping to the right and minding his own business, the bicyclist was front-ended by a pack of kids coming in the other direction. The head-onners were going about 40 miles an hour around a blind curve just before the accident.
None of them was injured. But the man they hit suffered a broken arm, a ruptured spleen and a mild concussion. He also missed two weeks of work -- at a job that didn't offer paid sick leave.
"I'm back because I love cycling," the man told me. But he doesn't love other bicyclists who don't ride with common sense.
To law-abiding cyclists who ride Rock Creek Park: be careful out there.
To law-disregarding cyclists who ride Rock Creek Park: one of these days, if you're not careful, the guy in the hospital is going to be you.
Touche and thanks to John Morton of Bethesda for this one:
Q: Why are there only 12 months in a year?
A: To keep the National Basketball Association season from getting any longer.