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Search for Peace 

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I didn't expect to find peace at the neighborhood Walgreens, but it didn't hurt to ask. The gulf war was still raging, and like everyone, I wanted it to end.

"Excuse me," I asked, "do you carry peace-symbol buttons?"

The checkout girl was surrounded by American flags and "impulse" purchases with a patriotic twist: pens, pins, key rings, bumper stickers, and fuzzy pressure-sensitive labels--all decorated with the Stars and Stripes.

"No we don't, ma'am. Sorry." She was very polite.

Nor did I really think I'd find peace at Venture, especially when I noticed Snoopy and Woodstock emblazoned on T-shirts above the slogan "U.S.A. Number 1." Yet I couldn't resist asking.

"I'm not sure," said the saleswoman. "But if we did have them, they'd be over there--with the buttons." The buttons read "U.S.A.," "Operation Desert Storm," and "Pray for Peace." Too bad I'm an atheist.

I did, however, expect to find peace at the University of Illinois Circle Center Bookstore, but instead I found a floor-to-ceiling display of American flags, "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon ($8.50 a roll), and Saddam Hussein voodoo dolls. The ad copy on the dolls mentioned something about how using them could release frustration.

(Several days later, the dolls were gone. I asked a store employee if they had sold out. "They made us take them down!" she sneered. "And they call this a free country!")

The closest thing I found there to my political convictions was a button that read "Operation Desert Storm--PEACE," something of an oxymoron.

I did find peace at Boogies Diner, a restaurant/clothing store at Rush and Walton. Our young waiter wore a metal peace symbol around his neck and a Stars and Stripes T-shirt.

"Isn't that an oxymoron?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said, grasping the peace symbol. "My friend lent it to me. But they sell them downstairs."

From our balcony booth, I spotted a T-shirt that spelled out "peace" in sequins.

Unfortunately, the T-shirt cost $99.99. At that price, I could not afford peace. I also noticed some white spandex biking shorts covered with peace symbols at $39.99. I considered wearing them beneath my jeans, as a closet transsexual might wear women's panties, though this would have defeated my purpose.

I almost bought the same peace-symbol necklace that our waiter wore, but it was $14.99 and didn't have a proper chain, just a fabric cord. I remembered the peace symbol I wore 20 years ago--bought for a dollar at Bizarre Bizaar, that warehouse on Wells that sold nothing but clothes, jewelry, and paraphernalia dedicated to 60s rebellion.

That memory led me to my solution.

My fingers did the walking, and the man on the phone claimed to have 500 "peace-related" items in the store. I asked him how much "rah-rah flag-waving USA" stuff he carried.

"Not much. That stuff doesn't sell well in the city. You gotta go out to the suburbs for those kinda things."

This surprised me, since I'd always thought people left the city in search of suburban peace. Nonetheless, I stopped by Bizarre Bizaar after work.

The display window brandished a flag as big as a tablecloth. T-shirts covered with flags, "I love America," and "Don't Mess With the U.S." For a moment I thought I was standing in front of an American Legion hall. Then I saw peace symbols hanging around the necks of some of the jingoistic T-shirts. There was a peace symbol T-shirt, but it lay folded on the floor of the display, almost hidden from view. It was surrounded by several peace-symbol patches and an array of buttons that read "God Bless America" and "Operation Desert Storm." I felt like I'd walked into a Twilight Zone episode. I had found peace, but its meaning had been coopted.

I hoped I was wrong. Like our waiter at Boogies, the young, long-haired salesman at Bizarre Bizaar did not know what an oxymoron was. But once I explained, he got it.

"Well, you know how it is," he said, "we gotta represent both sides."

"But the peace symbol expresses antiwar sentiment! Don't you think it's kinda stupid to..."

"Not when you think about it. After all, isn't that what we're fighting for--peace?"

Behind the glass counter display were dozens of peace-symbol necklaces, pins, and earrings. I noticed a design from my youth: the word "peace" spelled out in the shape of a dove. The salesman confirmed: yes, that's a real one, probably here since the 60s. But it no longer interested me.

Suddenly something caught my eye: corny, nostalgic, familiar, and it articulated my sentiments. A flat, metal rectangle etched with a daisy. The word "love" was spelled out vertically, each letter resting on a leaf. It cost $7.99, but its message was priceless. Opposite the word "love," on the other side of the daisy, it read: "War Is Not Good."

I bought it; I wore it; I will wear it for a long time. And when our president declared that we'd achieved peace in the Middle East, I was glad it was over, but I felt miserable. I knew the truth: we hadn't achieved peace; we had merely won a war. And war is not good.

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