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Urban Fungus of Obscenity Can Be Cleansed From Society
by Jeff Rivers, The Hartford Courant

If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ’F... you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible," said Holden Caulfield in ’The Catcher in the Rye."

For years, I’ve been noticing "F... you" signs, real and symbolic, like a real-life Holden Caulfield. While the obscene words still seem to grow on buildings in cities like an urban fungus, I’ve seen them on tunnels in the suburbs or rocks way out in the countryside, too.

Sometimes folks wear the words on their T-.shirts, proudly, as if they were a designer label. And to them, the words seem to be an answer, measure for measure, to a world they believe has said buzz off first.

Sometimes, people say buzz off with their actions. Smoking cigarettes in elevators. Smokestacks belching pollutants into the air. Random shootings. Random concern for the communities where most of the shootings occur. Bank robberies. Banks redlining poor communities. Politicians not keeping their campaign promises. A11 express exquisite disdain for others.

It’s enough to make one think, as Caulfield complained, "You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write ’F... you’ right under your nose ."

And yet, folks are finding peaceful places all the time. There are signs of their discoveries, too.

On Monday morning, a woman swept out of an office building near The Courant and passed right in front of me. A red sweater was draped loosely around her shoulders. There were words on her sweater that said happiness was a matter of choice. The words on the sweater made me smile.

Apparently, the woman in the red sweater had chosen to be happy. Reading the words on her sweater, and musing that they could be true, made me happy, too.

I watched the woman as she walked across the street to her car. There was a bumper sticker on it that said, "Just Be Kind." So simple.

For a while, I followed the woman’s car with my eyes, as she drove away. I was looking for more signs, wondering where she was going, or more important, where she had been, what she had seen or heard when she had been taken with the notion that one could choose to be happy.

Sometimes, usually around Christmas, I’ve felt that I could be as happy as I wanted to be, the wider I smiled, the happier I became. But I had never found a way to embrace the feeling or have it envelop me, without it slipping away. I wondered if the woman in the red sweater had found a way to keep the feeling all the time.

I wondered if the woman in the red sweater saw the "F.. you" signs that seemed to be everywhere. Did choosing to be happy mean deciding not to see those signs? Or did seeing them make her buy the sweater and bumper sticker to offer those who saw her a counterpoint to the bad signs?

I wondered how many people would see the words on the woman’s sweater and decide they were true, or at least hope that they were. How many people would understand the simple truth of the bumper sticker saying, "Just Be Kind?"

I did.

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