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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

I really hope I'm mistaken

Many years ago I was on my way home from a wedding late one evening when I stopped off at a roadside rest stop to refuel and pick up a cup of coffee. 

Inside, the rest stop was deserted except for the cashier and three tattooed young men with closely shaved heads and black t-shirts, who were waiting to pay for the junk food they'd picked out.

One of them saw me standing behind them in line wearing a tux and with a kippah (yarmulke) on my head, turned around to face me and with a big smile on his face said, "Hey... like my shirt?"

The black shirts they were all wearing looked very much like this:


At the time I didn't understand the significance of the numbers, but the shape of the 'S' made it obvious that it was meant to be a Nazi reference of some sort since the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) emblem looked like this:


Besides feeling tired and outnumbered, the brazen way in which the guy was smiling at me while showing off his shirt gave me a terrible feeling of vulnerability that I had only read about in history books.

I put down my coffee cup, walked outside prepared for the inevitable fight.  But when I got outside I was relieved to see a State Trooper cruiser pulling into the rest stop. 

I walked over to him and quickly explained that although I hadn't been assaulted, I felt that I had just been the victim of a hate crime.  He looked skeptical and asked me to clarify, but I couldn't find the worlds to explain why being taunted with pseudo-Nazi imagery might qualify as a hate crime.  I could only hope that like pornography, the 'I'll know it when I see it'  litmus test would apply.

As I was talking to the Statie, the guys in the black shirts filed out of the convenience mart with their food and drinks, saw me talking to the cop, and abruptly turned towards their car.  The policeman called them over and after taking one look at their shirts... turned to me with a look devoid of the previous skepticism and told me he would handle it... I should go.

Years later I learned that '88' is a code that white supremacists use as shorthand for 'Heil Hitler' (H being the 8th letter of both the English and German alphabet)... and '14' refers to '14 words', a white nationalist slogan "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children".  [source]

I've often wondered exactly what happened there at the rest stop after I left.

For many years I assumed from the cop's instant change in attitude after seeing the shirts that he'd either arrested them or taken some other concrete legal action.  But more recently I've started to wonder if the prospect of paperwork, a potentially violent confrontation, an overly sensitive complainant, maybe even personal sympathy with the sentiment expressed by the shirts, had caused the cop to simply send them on their way.  I'll never know.

Flash forward to the here and now.

I recently noticed that a user who frequents a popular online forum I like uses the following image as his avatar:


I have never seen this exact image anywhere before, and at first I assumed it must be a motorsports logo of some sort.  The guy using it seems upstanding, and has never made any comments that could be remotely construed as offensive, much less racist.  Yet, the number 88 is just uncommon enough (outside of piano circles, anyway) to stand out and make my 'Spidey-sense' tingle. 

So I sent the user with the 88 avatar a private message in what I hoped would be a breezy, chatty, 'by the way' kinda tone and asked, "Hey, interesting avatar you have there... care to share?".

He never responded.  Somehow the lack of a response seemed almost as damning as an admission. 

So I started searching the web to see if I could find that image... hoping that it would turn out to be related to something innocuous/inoffensive like a sports figure or a race car.

So far I haven't found it anywhere.

So I'm turning to you, dear readers.  Without rushing to judgement, I want to know if any of you have seen this image before:


And if so... what it means.

Posted by David Bogner on April 4, 2012 | Permalink


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88 is ham radio shorthand for "I love you." (73 is "Best regards.") Can I hope that this guy is a ham radio enthusiast?

Posted by: Rahel | Apr 4, 2012 12:26:33 PM

I had never seen this image before, but your post made me curious about its meaning so I did a "search by image".
Apparently it's a reference to a movie called "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension". See also the image and text on this page: http://starland.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=102
I never saw or heard about this movie before, but at first glance it seems like it is quite harmless :)

Posted by: Tina | Apr 4, 2012 12:43:53 PM

You are right - given the situation, he probably gave them a warning and let them go. If it was Israel he would have checked their I.D.'s, but I don't know what authority he would have had in the U.S. about such things. He didn't really have any case to detain them further, but his presence and reaction did change the situation and prevent anything nasty from happening.

Posted by: J | Apr 4, 2012 12:45:22 PM

Rahel... Some people see the glass as half empty... and others see it as half full. You always seem to see it as: "Yay! They gave me a glass that's twice as big as everyone else's". :-)

Tina ... Well done. I'm truly relieved that it is something innocent.

J... You're probably right.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 4, 2012 3:29:12 PM

If the forum was car-related, then he very likely is referring to Dale Earnhardt, Jr's car number! (maybe using the movie reference above as a source for the "88")


Posted by: Mark | Apr 4, 2012 7:36:44 PM

Yup, those late-night coffee stops on the way home from gigs can be a tad spooky sometimes.

It was outside a 7-11 in Edison, NJ that I heard the word "kike" spoken out loud for the first and last time in my life. I was almost back to my car, and felt it prudent to continue that way, not turn around, and leave rather expeditiously.

I now live not far from there, and it is indeed a part of town that is relatively close to "Neanderthal Central." Most anti-semitic stuff that happens here (few and far between, but it does) seems to emanate from that particular neighborhood.

Some people seriously need to get a life.

Posted by: psachya | Apr 4, 2012 8:28:36 PM

David, my guess is the Trooper asked them a few questions, warned them about messing with people and cut them loose. There wasn't much else he could do unless they had done something that constituted assault or disorderly conduct. They may have been towing the line on the latter, but I doubt the Trooper thought he had probably cause. Being offensive isn't a crime in itself.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Apr 5, 2012 10:52:57 PM

Of all the places I'd expect to see the Buckaroo Banzai insignia, this was not one of 'em.

Saw that movie several times back in 1984. Not quite sure why, except perhaps the description sounded interesting (and more than a little demented): "Adventurer/surgeon/rock musician Buckaroo Banzai and his band of men, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, take on evil alien invaders from the 8th dimension."

Would have loved to be sitting in on that pitch meeting.

Posted by: Elisson | Apr 6, 2012 5:20:11 AM

Buckaroo Banzai -- great movie! Also uses the old rock and roll piano song "Rocket 88" in its soundtrack, IIRC.

Given that at least one of the Cavaliers is explicitly Jewish, and given that one of the themes of the movie is human brotherhood without smoothing out one's own heritage to suit others, it would be amazingly stupid for somebody to take it as an Aryan thing.

Posted by: Maureen | Apr 11, 2012 10:35:29 PM

It's definitely from Buckaroo Banzai.

Posted by: Sean | Apr 14, 2012 3:17:05 PM

We had problems at the high school I used to teach at, occasionally, with the kids doing '88' on stuff. (Of course we also had the amazing day when a kid's car painted in swastikas and pictures of male genitalia. By close friends of his. Who were surprised to learn the school was not entertained.)

Thanks for letting me know this one is OK, it would have raised my antennae as well.

Posted by: Balabusta in Blue Jeans | May 28, 2012 7:18:33 AM

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