I’m really tired of being burned when it comes to bumper stickers and artwork on other people’s cars. Responding to these attention grabbers over the years hasn’t always yielded positive results. I’m fed up with the angry looks I get for flashing a thumbs up for chrome fish proclaiming the driver to be a follower of Jesus. I’m bored with political causes and advertisements for overpriced alma maters, license plate frames celebrating private pilots and llama farmers, and stickers announcing you’d rather be skiing.
Years ago during my morning walk to the bus stop a van would pass by painted with Matisse’s The Dancers, one of my favorite works of art. The painting depicted five figures forming a circle. Drawn with remarkable simplicity, these dancers kicked up their heels with unabashed enthusiasm for life. It was hard to gaze at the painting without feeling like a child again, as if I were reaching out to join a game of “Ring Around the Rosie.”
This went on for months; sometimes I’d pick up my pace to try and catch a closer glimpse of the driver but we never managed to arrive at the corner stop sign at the same time. I couldn’t help wondering about the fellow driving that van. What were the chances that his car would be decorated with my favorite painting? I wondered if he was my soul mate. Other than Matisse, what else did we have in common? Was he a fellow art student also chasing an illusive creative muse? Did he have fantasies like I did about one day becoming the father of modern art?
The day finally came when our paths converged. I was approaching the bus stop on the corner and the bus was early for a change. The Matisse Van, as I’d come to think of it, was stopped behind the bus. I dashed up to the driver’s window and tapped on the glass.
A nondescript guy rolled down the window. “Yeah, what do you want?”
“I just want to say how much I love and appreciate your vehicle. Matisse is my favorite artist and seeing The Dancers on your van every morning cheers me up.”
The dude scratched his head, a cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth. “If you’re talking about those silly dancing hippies, they were already there when I bought this van. As soon as I can afford a paint job this baby is gonna be metal-flake purple.”
My bus pulled away while I stood there with my mouth open. The Matisse Van drove off as well.
Which brings us to yesterday afternoon. There I was in bumper to bumper traffic hunting for the right chili powder for my mother. (Our community has a large Hispanic population and the markets are filled with countless types of chili that aren’t good enough for Mom.) A car switched lanes, pulling in front of me. The bumper sticker on the back of the car read: Honk If You Love Whales!
Well, dammit! I DO love whales. I think they’re wonderfully majestic creatures that we’ve driven to the brink of extinction. Whales are a hallmark species and the world would certainly be a lesser place without them.
I should have given it more thought, I should have wised-up from previous experiences and considered the fact that the whale sticker could have been put on that car’s bumper ages ago and is invisible to the car’s current owner. But without my realizing it, my hand found the horn. I pressed down long and hard, trying to expiate for a great grandfather who was a Nantucket whaler. Without bothering to turn around, the
driver removed a hand from the wheel and flipped me an uncooperative finger gesture.
From now on I’m not going to trust any bumper stickers, decals or pictures on cars,
not even if Jesus Himself has taken the wheel.