Signs of the Times 

Neighborhood campaigning turns ugly.

Well, it's not a war exactly. It's more like one one-billionth of a war. But it's escalating, right here in my own quiet, tree-lined all-American neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee. People are fighting over political yard signs.

For weeks now, signs have been getting yanked down, torn up, defaced, and relocated. Best I can tell, it has been good old cold-war-style mutually assured destruction. For every dead Kerry sign, a Bush sign has to pay the ultimate price, and vice versa. That's okay with me, since all the signs are bound for the landfill in a week anyway. Ironically, though, in the last few days, people have started acting like their signs are critically important. They're defending their signs with weapons.

Last week, The Tennessean reported that a woman had booby-trapped her two Kerry signs by gluing thumbtacks on them, pointy-ends out. Seems she's willing to give a dose of tetanus to the next sumbitch who touches one of her precious signs.

"Those thumbtacks are just going to fall off and end up in her family's feet," said my wife Brenda's co-worker, Mrs. Schwartz.

"Yep," I said, "or they'll get sucked up into the lawn mower and shot out at mamas pushing baby strollers down the sidewalk or innocent dogs and cats. Maybe I missed something, but I thought the Democrats were all compassionate and peaceful. I didn't think they'd be the ones willing to rip somebody's flesh over a yard sign."

Meanwhile, in my own neighborhood, a man who's become known as Moped Guy (MG for short) has been prowling the streets on a little blue motor scooter, putting homemade anti-Kerry signs on telephone poles and starting up shouting matches with Kerry supporters. Apparently, he's been really busy at it, because virtually every Democrat neighbor claims to have had a confrontation with the Moped Guy.

My teenage buddy, Hannah, told me that she and MG were stopped at a neighborhood intersection, and he started yelling at her about her Kerry bumper sticker. "So I yelled back, 'Bush sucks!'" she said. "Then he gave me the finger, and I responded with the two words that mean exactly the same thing as the finger."

"How old a man are we talking about?" I asked.

"Looked 60-ish to me," Hannah replied.

"And he's giving the finger to teenage Democrat girls?" I pondered.

"All I know is he gave one to me," she responded.

Up until today, Moped Guy has mostly gotten notice by screaming at neighbors and deploying homemade anti-Kerry signs on utility poles. The signs feature a caricature of Kerry, wearing a business suit and a pair of flip-flops. They're labeled "Mr. Flip Flop."

Today, a neighbor who chooses to remain nameless is telling people that Moped Guy rigged at least one of his signs with explosives. She says that as she did her patriotic duty and snatched a Mr. Flip Flop sign off its pole, a little explosion went off behind the sign. She said it was like a firecracker.

Well, I couldn't wait to get my hands on an exploding sign, so I spent all afternoon cruising the neighborhood and snatching down every Mr. Flip Flop I could find. I got excited when I found one with a bump behind it, but it turned out to be a half-walnut, probably dropped by a squirrel.

I've never been much of a yard-sign or bumper-sticker kind of guy. I don't want to mow around a yard sign, and I don't want to hassle with folding it up and putting it in the trash can after the election. As far as bumper stickers go, the only one on a Jowers car says "Everyone Poops" and has pictures of several creatures -- men and beasts -- answering the call of nature.

Best I can tell, political yard signs serve two purposes, neither of which appeal to me. First, they're pure statements of vanity. Like Hummers and Manolo Blahniks, they make their owners feel special. Second, they're a passive way of giving the finger to folks on the other side. It's a perfect one-two punch: I'm special, you suck.

These signs, like duct tape, are useless for their intended purpose. Surely nobody's thinking, "People are going to drive by my house, see my fine yard sign, and vote for my guy." If I ever find out yard signs have that kind of power, I'm going to throw up a bunch of signs that say "Leave a duffle bag full of crisp hundreds on Jowers' porch."

Right now, though, let me gently suggest that you folks with yard signs just pull the things up and throw them in the trash. You're cluttering up the landscape, and you're not changing any minds. You're wasting perfectly good paper and ink. Worst of all, you're getting the psychos all worked up. Nobody's yard sign is worth an injury. A thumbtack could cut somebody's finger to the bone, and even a little party-popper firecracker could throw some debris into somebody's cornea.

Put down the signs. Put down the little weapons. Just go vote. •

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