The car in front is a large crimson people mover. I say crimson, not red or maroon, because it has an Alabama vanity license plate, as in the university, not state pride gone over the top, and one of those stickers that shows a family holding hands, all wearing sweaters with University of Alabama As. There are also stickers in shape of a football helmet and a cheerleading megaphone from the children’s schools and a sticker of a portrait done in the manner of the Banksy Obama poster, you know, the red, white and blue Warholesque Hope one that lots of people used for their Facebook photos, along with taking the name Hussein. Only it’s not Obama, it’s Jesus, in agony, and I inch up a little to see what it says.

You’ve probably figured it out already. Forgive me. It was early in the morning and I was just being amazed at how much people want to advertise about themselves on their cars. It said, “Yes He can.” Next to this, a plain white sticker with a cross on it and the words Conservative Christian, which at this point seemed a bit redundant. And then one of those little Heat Miser guys, which might be for sportswear, or I don’t know what, do you? A little dancing flame man, a devil perhaps? They turn up on beat-up trucks and nice suburban family cars alike.

No one even uses the term “bumper sticker” anymore because they are putting stuff all over their cars, especially on the back, like a big bulletin board or like driving your fridge. And it’s for you, the driver sitting behind them at the light, to read. Their positioning statement as a family. They already know these things about themselves, their affiliations, their political and religious beliefs, the causes they support. Are they for or against dolphins? If you factor in the make and condition of the vehicle it’s like the triple whammy of polite conversational don’ts, like a pie in the face, two fingers. I don’t care what you think. I’m in front.

Commuting gives you too much time to contemplate the bad habits of one’s fellow citizens. Music takes the edge off.

I go into iTunes to find some music for the older daughter. She wants hip-hop. I am looking at a Jay-Z album that someone on xoJane said was good music to cut your own hair by, a vice of mine that I haven’t succumbed to lately, and see that now you can download the clean or the explicit version. I never thought I would be a parent who would opt for censored lyrics. Get me a big parental advisory car magnet. And a glass of wine.

Clean or explicit: This is an interesting pairing of words. What is the opposite of dirty then? Oblique? And, really, what’s the “clean” version of a song entitled “Illest Motherf**ker Alive” or “That’s My Bitch”?

We end up with A Tribe Called Quest and a song called “Mr. Rager,” which the older daughter, at this moment, thinks is the best song ever.

Last weekend, the younger daughter was at a swim meet with vendors. In addition to all the gear there were tribal items, T-shirts and car magnets mostly, which announced your dedication to swimming, your understanding of its terminology, or your supporting parental role. My daughter suggested a car magnet that said “swim taxi.”

I love that my daughter swims. I am really proud of her. She goes three times a week and her times are improving. Mostly I am proud of her because she has chosen and committed to it. The places where your children spend time, their schools, sports and music practices, become a defining part of your landscape, and you want to celebrate them. And on that basis, I almost agree to the magnet, but something else holds me back, an unwillingness to conform, a knowledge that then (helmet/megaphone) I will need to get one for the older daughter’s activity, then the schools, and then it starts to feel like a suburban parenting arms race.

We ride, unaffiliated, uncommitted, heads nodding to the music, keeping it oblique.

Screengrab from video of “Electric Relaxation,” A Tribe Called Quest, with some evocative NYC footage with the WTC, the Brooklyn Bridge, puffy coats and diners.


2 Replies to “Magnetism”

  1. bumper stickers seem to be an American thing, don’t they? I’d say I see about one every 6 months or so I would say is witty and might make me smile. but many you just want to look away and pretend you didn’t see it (or wish you weren’t forced to see). there are also the family stick drawings (stickers?) on cars …so you are made to know how many are in the family driving in front of you – girls, boys, pets. as you write, the corporate positioning statement/logo has made its way to the personal/family. (but, the real question is, did you end up getting the “water taxi” for your car? 🙂


  2. No, I stuck with my decision to abstain.
    And where do people find the stick figure family/pet decals?
    And what are the dancing flame devils?
    And imagine the bathos of having to remove the representation of a deceased pet or worse, a divorce. Like, would you hand your spouse their decal and say, I’m keeping the car? And then the other spouse could announce their new family status by placing the lone decal on their new car and maybe adding new pets or peeling the dog decal off the Suburban and saying, fine, I’m taking Baxter, and then one of these days they’d be adding a new spouse or a baby. It would be an interesting timelapse film, the addition and removal and rearrangement of car art.


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