You hear some really stupid things in our office. The stupidest, by far, was when former music writer CJ Bahnsen insisted that TV's Captain Kangaroo was in fact Alice Cooper's father, but there have been a lot of other really stupid things asserted, such as the intern who insisted that Pancho Villa was a fictional character. I myself once put forth, and held fast to, the proposition that my wife had coined the term "foxy."
Given that, when Weekly staffer Jeremy Scherer claimed there was a white Jetta driving around Huntington Beach with American flags painted on its sides and BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK painted on its bumper, the observation didn't really figure to stand out, especially after this exchange:
"You've seen it?"
"No. My roommates told me about it."
"Where did they see it?"
"Actually, it was only one of my roommates."
"Where did he see it?"
"Well, he told the other roommate about it."
"Okay, where did . . ."
". . . and then she told me."
"Right, so where did he see it?"
"Actually, he didn't see it. He heard about it from a friend."
"Well, not exactly a friend—our neighbor."
"Where did he see it?"
"I don't know."
This is pretty much how conversations go with Jeremy, and usually I've tuned out by the second retraction. But something about the story, about the car, intrigued me. I don't know what. Perhaps it was that the car's bumper came right out and said what all those flags flying on radio antennas only intimate. Perhaps it was because I wanted to ask the car's owner if he took a lot of guff for having the word "cock" on his car or if this was the one time when such a sentiment was allowed to pass. And maybe it was just that I wanted to see it. Staff writer Anthony Pignataro shared my curiosity, and he asked Jeremy if we could speak to his roommate.
Looking back, it's amazing how much of the story Jeremy got wrong. Nearly everything, except for the bit about the cock, which he nailed. I guess Anthony and I knew there was every chance that Jeremy was wrong, but something about finding the car and the person behind its wheel drove us to Huntington Beach to search for the white Jetta with BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK on its bumper.
Jeremy had given us directions to his duplex, and we arrived to find that the neighbor/eyewitness, Dan, was not at home, but Jeremy's roommate Jason was. He said that Dan had just left in his RAV 4. He said that Dan had actually told another roommate, Julie, about the car. Julie then emerged from a doorway to say Dan had told both of them. Jason said that Dan had, in fact, told only Julie—that he had simply been standing nearby. Julie said that, in fact, Dan had directed his comments to both of them—that he was in fact almost yelling at them, he was so excited. Jason shrugged his shoulders and said that Dan had taken the RAV 4, and Julie said he might have taken his Honda, but Jason said, no, he had taken the RAV. Julie said Dan could have taken the Honda, but Jason, now holding a barking dog under his arm, said he had seen Dan take the RAV.
They did agree that Dan had said he'd seen the car at an Albertsons supermarket less than a mile from the house. We said we'd head over and see if the car was there. If it wasn't, we'd come back—and hopefully hook up with Dan.
I found Tom in front of the Albertsons—seated beside a shopping cart full of T-shirts with "One Nation Under God" printed on them—under the watchful eye of a store security guard. Tom wasn't wearing one of the shirts; he wasn't wearing any shirt, in fact, just a deep tan and a few cross tattoos on his back and chest. I described the car and asked him if he'd seen it.
"No," he said with a rather pained look. "I've seen a lot of stuff, but it's all been pretty positive. I saw a tow truck with flags painted on both sides. People are pretty worked up. I guess they show it in different ways."
Tom and his new wife, Stormy, were living in Las Vegas when the attack took place. They had then been married only a few days. They'd been friends for years, and then, one night, Stormy—a tanned and lovely woman with eyes the size of nickels—dreamed God wanted her to marry Tom. So they did at a drive-through chapel in Vegas.
"It was really nice," Stormy said. "'Purple Haze' was playing on the radio, so that's our song now."
They had decided to take a year off together because, Tom said, that's what's commanded of newly married couples in Deuteronomy. They planned to go to Latin America but didn't have the money. Then the attack took place. People in Las Vegas got so worked up, Tom said, that when the stores ran out of flags, people started stealing them off graves.
"People went flag crazy," he said.
So Tom and Stormy bought some flag T-shirts and went down to the Strip to sell them. But when people saw the T-shirts, they mobbed the couple's Suburban, and Tom and Stormy got so caught up in the frenzy they started throwing the T-shirts out the window. It wasn't until they'd thrown away 350 that they realized they'd lost most of their money. They managed to make a little back, and with that, they came to California to start their trip. But then the Suburban broke down in Huntington Beach, and they had to sleep in the park.
So they needed to sell the T-shirts to help pay for a new transmission. That'll take about a week or two, and then it's off to Mexico and points south. I asked them if they were nervous to be going out of the country at a time like this.
"Naw," Tom said. "There aren't many Arabs down there. Plus, Stormy just got this tattoo." (At this, Stormy flashed an image of the Our Lady of Guadalupe on her forearm.) "So that'll give us an in."
What do they plan on doing in Latin America?
"Share the gospel," Stormy said. "Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked."
"Yeah," Tom said. "And we're going to do some surfing."
I thanked them for their time and said I was going back to look for the white Jetta with BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK painted on the bumper.
"Yeah," Tom said. "I haven't seen that. I don't know. That sounds pretty harsh. I think we should all keep this pretty positive. I have a buddy with a T-shirt with the Statue of Liberty flipping off, you know, the Arabs. I don't know—I don't think you need to be doing that kind of stuff. It's not those people's fault their leaders are assholes."
We said goodbye again, and then Stormy ran after us and asked me not to use their real names. She said that Tom was known as Tom Slick and that she went by Stormy during her six years as an exotic dancer.
Anthony and I then broke for lunch at the delicious L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. We sat outside and scanned the parking lot, our eyes bugging every time we spotted a white vehicle. As I ate my succulent and tasty barbecue chicken, I mused on why a person would put BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK on the back of their car. There were so many other things they could have put there. DICK, for example. Or DONKEY DICK. Or DINKEY DONKEY DICK. I lost my train of thought and my heart jumped as I spotted a white vehicle with red, white and blue on its sides, but it turned out to be one of those post office jeeps.
"Good chicken," I said.
"Yeah," Anthony said.
We headed back to Jeremy's house, where we found Dan in the garage. He seemed a little anxious at first but warmed up when we asked about the car. Yes, he had seen it.
"Once at the AMPM, and then at Ralphs."
"Ralphs? Jason told us Albertsons."
"No, it was Ralphs."
"So you saw this white Jetta . . ."
"Jeremy told us white."
"No, it's black."
"Oh, so it's a black Jetta with flags on the sides . . ."
"Flag," he said. "Just one flag."
"Right, and it's not on the side. It's painted all over the back window. And then below that is USA RULES, and then below that is BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK."
"Did you see the guy?"
"Oh, yeah. He looked like a regular guy. Regular build. Surf trunks."
Dan said he figured the guy must live locally, since he'd seen him a couple of times, but the man at the AMPM said he hadn't seen the car. We cruised the Ralphs parking lot and were excited to find a black Jetta, only to be disappointed to find only "TUTU 4 U" on its back license plate. We spotted two Ralphs employees taking a break and asked them if they'd seen the car.
"No, but that wouldn't bother me a bit," said Michael Edeler. "Certain times call for a little flexibility."
They wished us good luck on our quest. We asked them their names and, given that they were wearing aprons, if they were butchers.
"We're meat cutters," said Michael Williams. "A butcher? That's O.J."
Now two hours into the search, we decided to drive the few miles down to PCH, head south and then back up Beach Boulevard. We knew there was little chance of finding the BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK car, but if you're looking for a car in Huntington Beach, Beach Boulevard is your best bet. I started down Goldenwest, and then Anthony suggested cutting over to Main, since there were probably a bunch of people in the shopping district to talk to. So we did, passing many homes flying many flags, including one that completely covered the house's façade.
By the time we made it to Main, we saw three carts laden with flags, flag T-shirts and other paraphernalia. We pulled off to ask questions, passing a monster truck with Stars and Stripes decals, two Stars and Stripes windsocks flying from its bed, and AMERICAN PRIDE painted across its gate. The guy in the truck said his name was Harry Stewart—a big guy with a beard and an armful of tattoos and a stud through his chin. He said he'd just gotten the truck done a day before, that it had been important to him because he's ex-military—Navy—but that, at 36, he's too old to fight.
"If they'd let you, would you fight?"
He looked down at me, incredulous. "Of course," he said.
Harry and his wife had opened a store. Right here. He pointed back behind him, where I expected to find something in the tattoo or piercing line. Instead I saw Ladybugs and Inchworms, a fine kid's clothing store where one can purchase leopard-print diaper carriers, sequined slippers and silk pajamas. I told him about the black Jetta with BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK that we were looking for.
"No, I haven't seen that," said the former Navy Seabee with that same pained look I'd seen on Tom. "Hmmm. I want us to be united now. Why do you want to go out and raise hate right now? This is a time to come together. You've got to be more diplomatic than that."
The woman at the carts agreed. Her merchandise was all positive stuff, including the Stars and Stripes magic wands made by Anka of Orange, with proceeds going to different victims' groups.
"No, I don't carry any of that kind of stuff," she said, referring to the black Jetta with BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK on it. "I do get some people asking for that kind of stuff. But it's a certain group of people, you know? The kind of people who . . . "
"OH, MY GOD!" Anthony interrupted in an overwrought kind of way.
I turned to look at him and found him with mouth open and hand pointing.
"There he is!"
I turned to see a black Jetta with BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK painted on its bumper pulling into a parking space across the street not 10 yards from where I stood.
"Ohhhh," said the cart woman gravely as we raced away from her, never bothering to get her name or say goodbye.
The guy who emerged from the black Jetta was just as Dan had described him: regular guy, regular build, surf trunks. Though he was tall. We told him we'd been looking for him, that we'd heard about his car. He seemed pleased but not surprised. He said his first name was Tim and he'd appreciate it if we didn't use his last name. He said he had decided to do something to his car a few days after the terrorist attacks. He just started painting, first the flag, then USA RULES! and finally, when he got to the bumper, well, it just came to him.
"Some of my neighbors and friends thought it was harsh, but what happened back East was way more harsh," he said. "There has not been one bad reaction."
Instead, Tim said he's gotten a lot of cheers and thumbs up as he's passed people. In fact, he believes BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK has gotten him out of at least one speeding ticket.
"I was speeding down this street, and all of a sudden, I passed this cop on a motorcycle holding a radar gun," he said. "And as I went by, I saw him put down the gun and put his hands on the handlebars to come after me. Then he saw the back of my car, and he took his hands off and grabbed the radar gun again."
We asked him again how he'd come up with the design. It turned out that Tim is owner/designer of Ultimate Concepts, which manufactures screened T-shirts. He had a bunch of flag shirts in the black Jetta. During the Gulf War, he produced the very popular "Fuck Iraq! Bring Our Boys Back!" and said there were plans for an "Osama, Yo Mama!" model.
We asked him if he had considered putting that on the back of his car instead of BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK.
"No," he said. "When I did it, I was really angry, I think everyone was. You know, I was concerned about the kids. That's why I used 'cock.' I mean, 'cock' is 'cock,' but to kids, 'cock' means 'rooster.'"
Tim said he'd keep BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK on his car "until I'm told to take it off," but he didn't think that request would come any time soon, since BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK "serves to fill a void."
And with that, he politely explained he had to run, which is what he did, leaving Anthony and me standing there by BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK, our mouths agape at what had transpired. Walking back to my car, Anthony marveled at the odds of meeting up with the one black Jetta in all of Huntington Beach that had BIN LADEN SUCKS COCK on it.
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"I mean, if we hadn't stopped to talk to that guy in the monster truck, we would have finished talking to the cart lady too soon to see the Jetta," he said.
"And what if I hadn't cut over to Main like you said? We would have missed everything," I said.
Anthony said nothing; he just shook his head, overcome by the chance of it all.
The world will do that to you.