1991 Pulitzer nominee American Culture

III. Free-lance Picketers Finally Clean Up

Mirthology column, 1st run Wednesday 9 May 1990 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1990 Ben S. Pollock

(The finale, Part 3, go back to Part 1 or Part 2)

* * *

Because the teenager was not easily discouraged, Y.D. reminded wise Oscar Hapgood of a self-reliant cowboy, and so years ago he nicknamed him Young Dude. Oscar was caught up in Y.D.’s dream of bring back the Counterculture. Y.D. got hooked in himself because their junior-high buddy, Duff McDuff, had been studying the Vietnam War era in history class.

Oscar had grown to maturity in those years, then became a success in big business. The former hippie took an early — unusually early — retirement to live the life of an artistic vagrant.

The three this Saturday had put together reusable pickets from wooden dowels, foam poster board and tape.

Cici Davidson illustration 3-22-1989
“We haven’t eaten all day. We can tell the vegetarian contingent we haven’t eaten meat, and advise the others that we are fasting for them.” — Cici Davidson illustration

The teachers kicked them out first. The educators had been marching for better textbooks and took the trio’s blank signs — one black, one white and the last gray — as symbols against illiteracy. The fellows, though, were only trying to stay flexible, which offended the educators.

So they joined the Japan bashers a few blocks away. Y.D., having bought jars of water-soluble tempera powder, painted one word on each sign — “Tick,” “Tock” and “Tech” under clock faces representing an approaching midnight. The working men and women took the boys to be wise guys and ran them off.

Ever optimistic, Duff, Y.D. and Oscar walked down Main Street toward its intersection with Acorn Drive, where opposing sides of the abortion issue had gathered.

Since the fellows were on the west sidewalk, they decided to approach first the group there, which supported access to abortion.

“Excuse me,” Oscar said, “can we help?” We brought our own supplies in knapsacks.”

After exchanging handshakes with the 25 pro-choicers, Y.D. painted Duff’s white board to read, “If abortions are outlawed, only outlaws will have abortions.” The adolescent printed on his black sign in white: “A woman’s body is our temple.”

Oscar brushed on his gray board: “Hooray for Captain Spalding!” Old Hapgood preferred Marx Brothers dialogue to unsolvable social issues.

The men and women didn’t let the newcomers march with them long, and so the guys crossed the street to where 15 anti-abortionists walked slowly in an oval.

Duff wetted the sponge in water from the jug Y.D. carried and wiped the three pickets clean.

Oscar headed toward the leader, who held a Bible, and said, “Looks like you could use some more picketers. I count 10 women and five men, and yonder are 25 opponents.”

“Sir, we are equal in number to those fanatics, if not greater,” the minister replied. “All these women are pregnant so they count as two apiece. Then there’s Millie. She thinks she’s carrying twins, or maybe triplets, the way she’s been feeling.”

“Then we can really help,” Y.D. called out as he joined Oscar. “Mr. Hapgood and myself probably have 500 viable sperm apiece swimming around our bodies at this moment.”

Duff felt left out of this conversation. The trio’s signs were dry by now, but he could not draw any fresh slogans. Although 11 years old, Duff believed he could contribute to these negotiations.

“Let’s not overstate our numbers to these well-meaning people,” the boy said. “A sperm is not a whole human being, but a half. It needs an egg from a woman. I learned that in sex education class. That means, friends, at best your 1,000 sperms are only worth 500 humans.”

The minister gazed at the short-haired upstart, then at the beret-bedecked teenager and last and the gray-haired, denim-trousered Oscar. “The Bible says nothing about the New Math,” he concluded.

The other protesters then raised their pickets as if to smite the trio.

“Let’s try City Hall,” Oscar said, jogging away with Duff and Y.D. “Surely we’ll fit in with the environmentalists’ rally.”

“We’re on foot, and the Greens will appreciate that,” Y.D. said. “We’ve been recycling our pickets all day long, and poster paint doesn’t hurt the atmosphere’s ozone layer.”

“We haven’t eaten all day, either,” said Duff. “We can tell the vegetarian contingent we haven’t eaten meat, and advise the others that we are fasting for them.”

The fellows merrily sang “Look for the Union Label” as they walked, the only protest song they knew in common. Their pickets rested on their shoulders. As they drew close to City Hall, they saw dozens of cars drive away.

The boys were too late for the Earth rally, but not too late to work for a good cause. It took them only an hour to clean the area of soda cans, food boxes, extra petitions and surplus pamphlets.

* * *

The finale, Part 3, go back to Part 1 or Part 2


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