Wednesday, April 25, 2018

finding my a** in mexico

OK. You probably just did exactly the same thing I did when I saw that license plate.

In my case, I nearly broke my neck snapping my head around to be certain I had read what I thought I had. And I had.

My reaction was, as it almost always is when encountering one of life's continual absurdities -- I laughed. I laughed so hard that Omar, who was walking with me, must have thought I was on the verge of suffering a Zelda Fitzgerald.

When I pointed the letters out to him, he just stared at me. And, of course, he would. Those three letters in that configuration mean absolutely nothing in Spanish. And, even though Omar does speak some English, the baser use of that word would not necessarily come to mind.

Just as I am not fully attuned to the multifarious meanings of words in Spanish, he is not at the stage in English where he can pull words out of their box and play mercilessly with him. Though he is quite proficient with punnery in Spanish.

And what was so funny to me? I suspect it was the eight-year old boy who controls my id. He is always ready to giggle at circumstances that would cause his mother to frown.

Of course, the word "ass" is utilitarian. It describes a lot of things that are perfectly acceptable in polite society.

When Lyndon Johnson said, "Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There's nothing to do but to stand there and take it," he was using the word as it should be used. Of course, he was always vulgar enough that he may have just been making an ass of himself, which is another polite use for the word.

Its forbidden use, of course, comes from its use as a sexual tugboat -- to push shocking statements into conversation with the subtlety of a bulldozer. And, almost always, its use is designed to reduce the sublime to the banal.

You know the list. If you do, there is no need for me to lay them out here. If you do not, count yourself lucky. You are probably my mother.

All American states (and I suppose it is true in Canada and Mexico, as well) have regulations that restrict the letter combinations on their license plates. For instance, in my state of residence, Nevada, "ASS" would never appear on a license plate -- unless a quality control inspector was calculating his pension payments when the plate rolled past.

The list of things that must go unsaid, because it might hurt someone's feelings, look suspiciously like the list the Patent Office used to tell The Slants, a rock band, that their chosen name was offensive. The Slants responded, yes, that was the point. And took the Patent Office to court.

The result? Well, we all know how it turned out. In Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court told the Patent Office the First Amendment was not just a decoration. It really means something. And anyone who says, "I support the First Amendment," and then adds an emphatic "but," doesn't.

Before someone reaches for that rhetorical pistol on the hallway table, let me say I fully agree with the conservative principle that just because something is allowed does not mean that it must be used. But, when it is, we would best remember that one of the chief measurements of greatness is magnanimity.

And, you know what? I suspect society will not fall apart if a few four letters get truncated into three on license plates.

Instead, it might be a good time to let that eight-year old boy test drive your humor engine. You might enjoy the spin.

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