When I was 3 years old, my parents took me to a dinner party. It was the kind of party common in the suburbs of Washington D.C., where everyone brought their young kids, fed them, put them to bed, then moved on to martinis and highballs – a late 1960′s phenomenon.

This particular party was memorable, because it was the day my Dad discovered I could read. He discovered this when I was looking at the word “Fuck.”

FUCK COMMUNISM!

Our host had hung up a poster over his bar, popular at the time, which said FUCK COMMUNISM. My dad noticed I was staring at it intently, but assumed it would be inscrutable to me. He didn’t count on my daily dose of Sesame Street. “Pretty poster, huh, Peggy?” he said. My reply: “Yes, Daddy. But what’s Communism?”

His first thought: “Oh my God, she can read.” His second: “She probably already knows what the first word means.”

I can just envision my earnest little 3-year-old self, staring at the poster and determined to break the code of what it meant. I wonder what meaning I took away with me that day. Probably that one or both of those words made my dad nervous, and I should file them away as words my mom called “not bad, but impolite.”

redpeg

Later, when this story seemed more funny than appalling, my parents told it often. I only have a vague recollection of the incident myself. My dad could recall very little about the poster besides the offending words, except that he seemed to think it had an abstract eagle on it somewhere.

I decided to find it. Which took all of 3.25 seconds, thanks to Google.

It turns out the poster was the work of Paul Krassner, a stand-up comedian, social satirist, cohort of Lenny Bruce, Yippie, and publisher of The Realist, which is where the image first appeared in 1963. More than 30 years later, Kurt Vonnegut called it “a miracle of compressed intelligence nearly as admirable for potent simplicity, in my opinion, as Einstein’s e=mc2.” He went on:

At the beginning of the 1960s, FUCK was believed to be so full of bad magic as to be unprintable…COMMUNISM was to millions the name of the most loathsome evil imaginable…By having FUCK and COMMUNISM fight it out in a single sentence, Krassner wasn’t merely being funny as heck. He was demonstrating how preposterous it was for so many people to be responding to both words with such cockamamie Pavlovian fear and alarm.

My parents and their friends were certainly not Yippies or even hippies – in fact, both Mom and Dad worked for the CIA, and most attendees of the dinner party worked for some branch of the U.S. government. However, what was radical in 1963 was likely more mainstream in 1969. It had the F word, which you still can’t say on broadcast TV and radio, but the sentiments expressed were ones even Ronald Reagan would agree with.

I thought it kind of funny, then, that 40 years later, my dad implored me not to display such a poster in my house. I had emailed him the link to the image, asking him to verify if it was the same poster we’d seen all those years ago. He owned that it probably was, but said, “IF YOU PUT IT UP IN YOUR HOUSE, PLEASE TELL ME YOU WILL PUT IT ON THE BACK OF A CLOSET DOOR, FOR DISPLAY ONLY IN APPROPRIATE CIRCUMSTANCES.” (Forgive him – he writes in all caps, he’s not really shouting.) He continued, “THE WORD IS TOO IMPORTANT TO THE HUMAN CONDITION TO BE USED AS IT IS, BY EVERYBODY, ALL THE TIME, FOR ITS SUPPOSED SHOCK VALUE.”

He’s right. We really throw around the word Communism way too much.