I recently recalled an image from my childhood.
Initially, I was not sure if the image was of a figure whom I had often imagined or if the image was an actual memory. What I remembered was the image of a middle-aged man standing on the side of the road holding a sign that read:
“Bomb The Whales.”
I asked around to the other (now grown) children who lived in my hometown and they confirmed that they too remembered the man.
People hated him.
He was often stationed across the street from the local Whole Foods.
Drivers with pro-peace/hippie/liberal leaning bumper stickers would drive by and honk their horns and yell “fuck you” or “go to hell” but he was not deterred by this.
He got off on it. His smile would grow wide and he’d wave as if he had been complimented or the drivers were simply saying hello.
He was a white, middle-aged man. He wore glasses. He dressed the epitome of plain. I imagined him eating his breakfast while contemplating his day’s work. I imagined him dropping his children off at school. I imagined him avoiding eye contact at the halfway house. I imagined many lives for him. Was there someone who tried to stop him each morning? Was this all an act? Did he have a job? Was he a psycho?
As a kid I was interested in how an adult could decide that this was how they were going to spend their time. I imagined that all adults were either tethered by work or family. I was all the more intrigued for how normal this man appeared. He looked like a church-goer or a high school principal. If this man could think these thoughts, then what was going on in all the other adults’ minds?
I was learning that we truly can grow up and do anything. It wasn’t just about picking a career and becoming a cop or an astronaut. You could also stand on the side of the road with a sign all day, every day. The possibilities were endless. I had gleaned this lesson from all kinds of art but now I was seeing this truth in the “Bomb The Whales” man.
As I write this I am 35 years old. As a writer, I know what it feels like to be an adult who honors a schedule where there is no time clock. I know what it is like to honor a ritual that no one has asked you to perform. Though I have ultimately tried to be a vehicle of positivity while this man was clearly one of hate, am I any less ridiculous than he was?
I still am amused by how a sign that made so little sense could cause any outrage. I mean how would one bomb the whales? Would you bomb the oceans all at once or would you take each whale out of the ocean and bomb them one by one? Would you empty a town, city or state and lay the whales side by side and then drop one big bomb?
It’s safe to assume that life had let this man down and in turn, his bitterness turned towards this nihilism and this was his great “fuck it” moment. Showing up each day to hold his “Bomb the Whales” sign was the only work that he felt was worthy of his time. Like many trolls, he battled one empty slogan with another. He just wanted to show us that we are all a bunch of hypocrites. It was never about the whales.