Jewish World Review July 20, 2000 / 17 Tamuz, 5760
On Main Street, signs of
the times tell two
COLUMBUS, Ohio | I tend to idealize the years
and place of my growing up, and at the center of
these memories is Main Street. When I recall what
it was like for my friends and me to ride our bikes
along Main Street, the landmarks are as vivid now
in memory as they were on the summer days when
we would roll past them, pumping away at the bike
pedals: Seckel's 5 & 10, the Eskimo Queen ice
cream stand, the Ohio National Bank, Rogers'
Drugstore. . . .
But there was something else -- something we
barely paid attention to.
It was a billboard -- a big one.
And the words on the billboard, in huge letters,
with no explanatory text underneath those letters,
"IMPEACH EARL WARREN."
We had no idea who Earl Warren was; we were
kids. I don't think we even had any idea what
"impeach" meant. Probably we thought "impeach"
was sort of like "elect." Maybe this Earl Warren
guy was running for office, and wanted our parents'
Earl Warren was the chief justice of the United
States Supreme Court. He was appointed by
President Eisenhower in 1953, and served until
1969 (he died in 1974). He became a figure of
enormous controversy in the 1950s and 1960s
because of what some people on the right
considered to be his liberal leanings. He was the
justice who wrote the historic Brown vs. Board of
Education opinion for a unanimous court, banning
segregation in schools; the Warren Court, as it was
called, issued the Miranda vs. State of Arizona
decision ruling that criminal suspects must be
informed of their rights. . . .
All of this infuriated many people on the far political
right; the John Birch Society in particular targeted
Warren, agitating for him to be removed from
office. Bumper stickers advocating his
impeachment were distributed across the country --
and in our neighborhood, someone had funded the
big "IMPEACH EARL WARREN" billboard on
The people who despised Warren thought that his
purportedly permissive political leanings would
eventually be the downfall of the country; they
thought that his court stood for an anything-goes
attitude that would bring the nation down. It was
such an odd sight on Main Street -- there were all
the feel-good artifacts of Leave-it-to-Beaver-land,
and then there was the angry billboard urging the
removal from office of the chief justice of the
We didn't know; we would ride our bikes right past
it. We were children on Main Street.
Last week, I was back on Main Street. Not on a
bike this time; I was riding in a car, in a hurry to get
The "IMPEACH EARL WARREN" billboard is
long gone. But not far from where it used to be, I
saw another sign. It was on the side of a small
building on Main Street.
The sign said: "Recycle Your Old Porn."
It was on the side of a so-called adult book and
video store. Apparently it was an invitation to bring
in no-longer-wanted pornography, and trade it in
for new pornography.
Had we seen that sign from our bikes as we rode
down Main Street in the 1950s. . . .
Well, we wouldn't have seen it. Any business
owner who had put up such a sign would have
ended up in jail.
But had we seen it, we would have had no more
idea of what those words meant than we did about
the words on the Earl Warren sign.
"Recycle"? What's that mean? Something to do
But the main confusion, of course, would have been
about the "porn." If "porn" was short for
"pornography," and pornography was forbidden,
dark, hidden, something to be stamped out. . . .
Then how could those words be displayed on a
sign on Main Street? Right where everyone could
see them? "Recycle Your Old Porn"? How could
that be -- right out there in full view, as if the words
were advertising a bake sale or an ice cream
social? Right out there where not only grownups in
cars could see the words, but kids on their bikes on
a summer afternoon?
In the days of the "IMPEACH EARL WARREN"
billboard, far-right conservatives were warning that
some day the country would change so much that it
would hardly be recognizable -- would change in
ways that we might regret.
The billboard has disappeared. On Main Street the
other day, I found myself thinking about whether,
years from now, boys and girls who are children
today will think back to the Main Street of their
own growing-up time, and hazily remember another
sign. "Recycle Your Old
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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