Bumper Sticker 1960
Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
It was one of those scorching hot September days in Oakland. The treeless avenue allowed the sun to burn through so strongly it made the gray cement sidewalks appear to be white as they radiated the merciless heat, seeming to melt the pink rubber soles on our new white bucks. Feeling our skins turning to toast was no detriment to our ten-year old constitutions as we embarked on our odyssey from the corner store while enjoying our freshly purchased cucumber dills. My friend Giselle and I just kept it moving; walking slowly to her house as we talked about the Kennedy-Nixon debate we had seen the night before.
With both sets of parents and virtually our entire neighborhood solidly in the Kennedy camp, it naturally followed that we were Kennedy fans as well. But we had totally different reasons for liking Kennedy than the adults did. We thought he was just so much cuter than Nixon. After all, last night Nixon had been a sweaty, ugly mess and Kennedy had been so cool and poised. We had no idea that Nixon had been Vice President; we just knew that Kennedy’s way of talking and his thick head of hair made him handsome.
With pickles finished and our minds made up about who should be President and why, we began to sing our favorite song of the month, “Rockin’ Good Way” at the top of our lungs. We sang this song and others often as we walked from the store or the movies or wherever we were going or had been, switching off being Dinah or Brooke in this top hit “call and response” tune.
I am not sure who was singing what part when we saw the Nixon bumper sticker on the blue Ford truck parked in front of the new auto body shop. Seeing it at the same time, the sight of it in our territory was jarring enough to cut us off in mid-song. Without speaking we both instinctively knew what needed to be done. We were bent and scraping with our fingernails to remove that offending sticker within seconds. We had managed to get most of it off when we heard a man’s voice yelling,
“Girls, girls! What on earth are you doing?”
We looked up to see a tall, dark haired young man standing in the wide opening of the shop.
The auto body shop owner had caught us. If we had stopped to consider our exposure from that gaping opening where the man now stood, hot, red-faced and looking a bit annoyed, we might have had second thoughts about removing that bumper sticker. We just knew we were going to jail or even worse, he was going to call our parents and tell them we were vandals.
But he didn’t do either. Instead he invited us in to the shop saying he wanted to show us something.
Now, remember, we were ten and we knew that this could be a dangerous thing, but we were also curious. Plus it was two against one and at least on the schoolyard that was usually an automatic win. And when he told us we could just stand in that huge opening and listen to what he had to say, somehow we didn’t feel threatened. Young and stupid we didn’t stop to think that there could be others in the shop who could reach out and grab us. So we stood on the steel threshold side-by-side, each with one foot in the coolness and shade of the shop, and the other in the relentless heat of the driveway concrete, poised to bolt if needed.
The man gave us a quizzical look as he turned to walk away. We watched as he went to a nearby table holding a tri-fold poster board with carefully printed words and a few pictures. Across the top, covering all three boards were the words:
THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
He picked up his pointer and began to make a presentation. We didn’t know what to think. We stood there both perplexed and fascinated. The man appeared to be genuinely trying to teach and convince us that the Republican Party was something we should embrace. Much later Giselle and I would recall it as being in school with a nice teacher who was giving us a lesson on how to disobey our parents. We couldn’t stop listening, but we couldn’t do what he said either.
The man went on and on as he covered the material on each of the three boards. He talked about famous Republicans and who reported to whom in the organization. He talked about what the Republicans would do for the economy and the war and jobs. We had no idea what he was talking about but kept listening because he was so sincere. At the end of his presentation he asked us if we had any questions, which we did not. And with that he told us to not take off any more Nixon bumper stickers and sent us on our way.
We knew we had been caught up in something strange that would never be believed, so we never told anyone. Besides we couldn’t really explain it without admitting we had just broken two cardinal rules: We allowed ourselves to be lured by a stranger and we destroyed property. Those two things would get us grounded for at least a year. The trouble we would be in by telling was not worth it especially since nothing other than an odd and impromptu lecture on politics had happened.
When we got a few feet away from the shop Giselle looked over at me and said,
“ I don’t care what he says, I still like Kennedy.”
“Me too,” I replied.
And off we went into the heat of the day, continuing our journey to Giselle’s house, re-starting our rendition of “Rockin’ Good Way.”
This time I was Dinah.
Copyright©2016 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
From the upcoming book of short stories
Running For The 2:10
A Sequel to:
A Dollar Five: Stories From A Baby Boomer’s Ongoing Journey