Most of the free world has heard of the Westboro Baptist Church, founded by the notorious (and recently deceased) Fred Phelps. The members are the ying-yangs who believe that by holding shocking anti-gay day-glo signs in public, they are doing God's work. They believe picketing the funerals of American soldiers, people who have died of AIDS, or any unfortunate death that makes the news, is bringing God's message to the evil and lost. They travel widely, apparently able to finance these pointless excursions due to the tax exempt status as a church. Maybe there are actually enough nitwits in the world to send donations so they can picket. Who knows?
They are always on some street corner in Topeka, Kansas. They indoctrinate their children by giving them hateful signs to hold. I have often thought they put their children on the corners in order to keep themselves safe. Surely many people have fantasized driving down the sidewalk, gleefully seeing the signs fall as the ying yangs scramble for safety. No reasonable person would endanger the children, standing with signs referring to issues they cannot possibly entirely understand at such tender ages. The presence of those unfortunate children has protected the pea-brained adults probably more often than anyone realizes.
Westboro "blesses" every event in Topeka with their signs. At every concert, comedian, or public performance at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, the Phelps gang shows up with their day-glo signs to stand front and center, on the public sidewalk. They are not allowed to block the sidewalk, but they are an obstruction just the same, in my opinion. The general public knows they will be there and have learned to simply live with it, the way we all accept a certain amount of ugliness and discomfort - like hemorrhoids - or nose hair.
Of course, the Westboro "klan" was there for the Joe Bonamassa concert. It was such a pleasant evening that people lingered leisurely outside. Waiting for my family to arrive I witnessed multiple reactions as people discovered the ying yangs and their signs. There were many older ladies on the arms of their husbands whose faces showed embarrassment at the profane and indecent references. There were people being delivered by hotel shuttles who had to step from the the vehicle between the two rows of those ridiculous placards. (Most of the signs are enormous, too large to hold up, so they are constructed to rest on the ground.) When does their right to free speech infringe on our right to attend a concert without their pollution? Why must they be allowed to stand right in front of the damn theater? Across the street would be free enough speech for most of us.
Some people were so offended that they cursed the placard holders. People from out of town were shocked and dismayed... and puzzled. My favorite overheard comment of the whole evening came from a genuine cowboy, who stopped for a moment when he first saw a man holding one of the signs. "What the hell does Joe have to do with any of that? Dumb son of a bitch," he said wonderingly, shaking his head. It was that poetic, musical "dumb-son-ova-bitch" only a true Kansas man can lay out, reserved for people who are simply too damned stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time. It made me laugh.
As I sat there in the pleasant evening, anticipating the concert and time with my family, a flash of sublime clarity struck me. How absurd to think that shoving shocking signs in people's faces will change anything. It is absurd for adult human beings to invest their lives in such a pointless activity and call it God's work. It is possibly even more absurd to be disturbed by those signs.
Post script: My favorite sign of the night: "Topeka, City of Whores!" I'm down with that.