Imagine you live in a small town. On the day the Supreme Court is set to consider gay marriage, you head out to buy your morning cup of coffee. Heading to Joe’s Diner, you see that Mrs. Mason across the street has posted a giant red equal sign in her front window. In her doorway, she waves at you. “This is for my son, Tim,” she says. “Oh, and while I have you, can you donate to my Pit Bull Rescue fund?”
You hand her a few bucks. Better Tim than her daughter, Marla. Girl thinks she’s a singer/songwriter. She’s always pacing up and down the front walk trying to coax your neighbors into donating to her Kickstarter campaign. “Ninty-nine percent of you aren’t brave enough to donate,” she’ll say. Sometimes she posts her lyrics in Mrs. Mason’s front window, then gets sour if no one makes a point of telling her they like them.
At Joe’s you grab your usual seat at the counter. Through the window you see two more equal signs have gone up at the hardware store and in the apartment above All Things Unicorn, this place that sells tacky statuettes and signs that say “You should always be yourself. Unless you can be a Unicorn.” You’ve seen the girl who lives above it, but you can’t recall her name. Strange the things you know about her though, like she loves The Walking Dead and she has insomnia. Once you jotted a note on her door that you thought the two might be related, but she just yelled “Less than symbol, number three! which apparently is a way of saying love or heart but just felt dismissive. Anyway, you know she has insomnia because most nights she’s up on her roof at odd hours, shouting into her megaphone. Things like “FML,” or “Well thank god THAT’S over!” You’ve taken to calling it “Vague-Roofing.” Totally irritating. But somehow her friends still gather on the front steps and crane their necks calling out “OMG, what happened?” Or “Can you private megaphone me? I think I know!”
You add cream to your coffee, imagining the white swirl is liquid tolerance. She has just as much right to express herself as anyone else in town. In fact that’s part of why you live here: diverse points of view.
“What are these signs for?” On the adjacent stool, Ned Jackson looks up from his crossword.
“They’re in support of gay marriage,” you tell him. He’s always a little behind. Last week when all the townspeople were waving around pictures of Grumpy Cat he was still talking up that dog with arthritis whose owner carried him into some lake.
“Huh,” he says. “You heard about this ‘YOLO’ thing?”
Later, as you leave the diner you hear hammering.
“Looking good,” you tell Joe. He’s hung an equal sign of his own.
From atop his ladder, he waves. “By the way,” he says, “You should stop by The Vic. Taylor Swift is performing live along with this goat that yells like a person. They sound great together.”
You’d planned to watch the Mad Men premiere with your front door open, yelling out your response to each scene, but you tell him you’ll try to make it.
Walking to work you scan houses and apartments and shops. Amidst the usual photos of meals and the occasional not that clever phrase about bacon you count twenty more equal signs. Oh, and a sonogram banner hanging over the Henderson’s porch. “Congratulations!” You holler as you pass.
Your mood is high when you hit Main Street. So high in fact, that you forget to take the long way, avoiding Helen’s house. Everyday she stabs a new sign into her lawn: “There’s no Such thing as Global Warming” or “Obama is the Anti Christ.” She’s entitled to her opinion, of course, but several of the neighbors have hung heavy curtains across their property to block her from view. Today her sign reads: “Gay rights are not civil rights.” A few feet away, the sidewalk is covered in pastel chalk.
“Amen,” someone has written.
“Freedom of speech,” another has seconded.
“Mom, you’re embarrassing me,” Helen’s son has scrawled.
In front of Helen’s house you clench and unclench your fists. Is there any point in engaging her? Maybe, but it’s nearly nine a.m. now and you’ll be late for work if you do. Heading to the office, you try to recapture your good mood. What’s amazing about your community isn’t that everyone agrees with you. It’s that so many unexpected people have taken time to change their window displays and banners. They care enough to offer support.
At the end of the street, your office building glints in the morning light. You shade your eyes with your hand. The equal sign behind the wide front window glows red in the refracted light. Squinting, you think how fiery and bright it seems, as if the sun has risen twice today.