Never Judge a Monk by its Cover / by Courtney Mehlhaff

So the other morning I was staring half-awake out of my bus window, and up ahead I saw a small car plastered with bumper stickers. Normally I'm fascinated by this phenomenon, which seems especially prevalent here in the Twin Cities, of using your vehicle to loudly proclaim your feelings about various topics (or, at least, as loudly as an 8x3" sheet of vinyl will allow) to the person waiting impatiently for you to make that left-hand turn.

I'm a bit torn between bumper stickers and vanity plates as hilarious social media. On one hand, the stickers are often clever. But on the other hand, vanity plates only allow you six or seven characters to be equally as clever. Plus there's the challenge of trying to figure them out. I keep a running list of my favorites. 

But we were talking about bumper stickers. What I love are the messages, because they are rarely ambiguous or middle-of-the-road. You never see "Peace: Sometimes It's Nice" or "Part-Time NRA." And, in the case of what I call a bulletin-board bumper, there's usually a theme. You can typically infer a lot of things about someone from their vehicular menagerie of well-worn sentiments.

I enjoy few things more than people who are willing to deface their car in the interest of provocation. My favorite sticker to date read "God was my co-pilot, but we crashed in the mountains and I ate him." Believer or not, you have to appreciate the person who thought, "Yes. When people gaze upon me in traffic, this is the sentence I'd like them to take away from that experience."

I often wonder whether there are people out there who are driving around in used cars with bumper stickers that scream things they don't personally believe. Maybe they were too lazy to remove them, maybe they wouldn't come off, but for whatever reason, they just don't apply. Do they get horn blasts or middle fingers they don't deserve?

When I was about nine, my family went to Florida to visit some friends. It happened to be Halloween, and my sister and I were invited to a party, along with these friends' kids. I didn't have a costume, so I borrowed a mask from their son, who was about my age. I didn't realize two things: 1) He'd worn this mask before, and 2) Evidently he was not well-liked. 

So I got to this party and was immediately set upon by three or four older boys, who mistakenly thought I was him. I remember thinking, "What the hell did I ever do to you a-holes?" Well, that, and "Holy crap, I'm never gonna see Disneyworld!"

The point is this: Maybe we shouldn't assume that what's on the outside accurately reflects what (or who) is on the inside. Let me take you back to the small car outside my bus window the other morning. All the bumper stickers read "Free Tibet," and I was immediately and irrationally annoyed by this, since it seems a trendy thing to advocate. (I'm all for freeing Tibet, I just don't think you should cover your car with the slogan unless you're intimately acquainted with the situation and genuinely dedicated to the cause.)  

Which, in this case, the passengers were. As the bus pulled up alongside, I looked down into the car. Chock full of monks. Touché, monks. Touché.