One day while driving down Beach Boulevard, I passed a typical strip mall where one shop had a huge sign that read: Caskets, Urns and Gravemarkers: Direct to the Public. I don’t know about you, but I hate buying those things indirectly.
Then, I passed the usual conclave of psychic palm readers, the last of which also sells ceiling fans and vitamins, and on that corner, under the billboard advertising Actors and Models for Christ, I spotted something . . . unusual: Lady Liberty waiting for a bus.
She sat huddled on the bus bench, her head held in thin, gnarled hands. On her left rested her torch, a sad, unlit appendage that could never hope to be lifted beside the golden door. On her right, a crumpled brown paper lunch bag. The matted tendrils of her hair fell over her foam crown, its seven points as floppy as an old man who ran out of Viagra.
Her robe, modeled on a Roman goddess, was supposed to resemble the green patina of old copper, like the real Lady Liberty in New York Harbor, but hers looked like a white sheet accidentally washed with a Kiss Me, I’m Irish T-shirt. And, for extra, added humiliation, a beauty pageant sash was emblazoned across her chest, but instead of Miss Garden Grove, her sash said: Liberty Tax Services.
My God, I thought, a living metaphor. She is the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse on a teeming shore—the exact demographic for whom Lady Liberty first lifted her torch. And the image disturbed me.
Then down the road I passed a second Lady Liberty; this one—oddly—was male. An electric guitar was slung over his shoulder and his robe, obviously one-size-fits-no-one, hung well short of the ground revealing skinny teenage legs protruding from blue plaid shorts and ending with a pair of lime green high tops. Not a fashion slave. White buds grew out of his ears, and with one foot atop his amplifier tapping out the beat, he was a rockin’ and a rollin’, singin’ to reach the balcony. Oblivious to honking motorists, his head jerked in heavy-metal time, making his crown swing like a gate hinged to his scalp. Far from feeling ridiculous, he’d found his bliss.
And if that weren’t enough, a mile later I spotted a third Lady Liberty, this one smiling broadly, holding a torch in one hand and waving a small American flag in the other. She was performing a tap routine with the energy of a marathon dancer in the first minutes of competition. In eight hours, I figured, she too would be exhausted, collapsed on a bus bench.
I wasn’t sure which of these Lady Liberties best personified America, but I was certain that one of them did. But, as I thought some more, I realized that this nation can’t be defined by just one Lady Liberty. America is all three. Yes, much of the country is tired and sadly poor, but it’s also energetic and joyous; it’s a singing, dancing, flag-waving, free-thinking, cross-dressing, do-your-own-thing kind of place—and despite its shortcomings—it’s a place I’m glad to call home.