The Billboard

Arian Knops

The Billboard

3 mins
March 30, 2021

In the late 1960s flat tires were not all that uncommon. At times they could make a person late for work or they may have been fate’s way to prevent one from being in an accident. At other times they provided opportunities. The flat tire in this story provided an opportunity that most slightly inebriated young men in their early twenties would never have recognized; or would have taken advantage of it.

Flat tires can happen nearly anywhere including one’s own garage, but most of them occur along a street or highway and usually when one is alone, often on a deserted stretch of road. Fortunately for this young man, I’ll call him Bill, he was alone, it was twoish in the AM and the four-lane highway was empty for as far as he could see. Being young and having had a number of flat tires in the past, young Bill made quick work of the tire change.

He sat back in his car and lit up an Old Gold cigarette and cracked open another beer just to relax for a minute before he continued on his journey. One lone semi whizzed by but there was still no other traffic. As he took a long draw on the cigarette Bill looked out of his windshield and noticed a brilliantly lit billboard. The background on the billboard he was gazing at was black and the lettering was white, so it really attracted a person’s attention.

The ad simply read, “The College of St. Benedict…Visit Us…”  The college of St. Benedict is in St. Joseph, Minnesota and is a Catholic school for girls. Some of the girls getting their education there thought they had heard the calling from God to be a Nun, but many of the others were the supposedly virginal young daughters of parents who just wanted to keep their little girls in a safe environment.

Having a beer or two or six has the ability, in some people, to impair judgement and in others it sharpens the mind in really strange ways. Our man Bill had his slightly warped and witty mind inspired by the ingestion of maybe one too many beers.  He thought it might be a good idea to add a word or two to the billboard. Now, why a person who just happened to be driving a black 1953 Ford Custom would have a can of white spray paint in his trunk is open to conjecture, but he did.

Fetching the paint from its resting spot in the trunk, Bill made his way to the brightly lit billboard. Being young and agile, and a sometimes mountain climber, he had no trouble getting onto the catwalk that the sign installers use to change the message on the sign.

The words he chose to put on the sign altered its intended meaning. In perhaps two minutes he had messed up what might have been the result of month of planning by the cloistered nuns of St. Benedict’s. The sign now read, “The College of St. Benedict…Visit Us…We’re horny!”

The deed done, he raced back to his car with the full knowledge that no one had seen him and also that he had sown the seeds to tick off a whole group of people, most of whom were nuns, priests, and some other diligent Catholics. As he drove down the road Bill wondered what the reaction might be.

His question was answered the next day as a picture of the sign appeared in the St. Cloud Times, the largest local newspaper. There was an extensive article, written by the local Bishop, about sacrilege and also some scathing comments from the good nuns of St. Benedicts. The county Sheriff asked the public’s help in solving what was rapidly becoming the crime of the century in central Minnesota. Incarceration and heavy fining of the person or persons involved was mentioned more than once.

The following Sunday the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime were vilified from the pulpit of every Catholic Church in the diocese. What amazed most people attending those services is that the vilification came before the request for money to remedy the situation. The power brokers of the church were doing their duty in defending the virtue of young Catholic ladies.  What the church elders could not or would not admit was that virtuous teenaged Catholic girls are made of the same fabric as Harvey the Invisible Rabbit, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.  Never in the history of humankind had two words infuriated such a great and diverse number of people. What never crossed the mind or minds of the people doing the vilifying was that perhaps the person or persons who changed the wording on the billboard knew some of the girls enrolled at St. Benedicts personally; in his or their minds they may have printed a true statement.

I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is for such a horrible crime, but the Catholics had the Inquisition running for several centuries so they may never give up looking for the guilty party.

Not wanting young Bill, now a much older man with daughters of his own, boiled in oil, crucified or having his back broken on the rack I cannot reveal his identity.

Now the logical solution to the problem was to simply have the sign company paste a new piece of black paper over the blasphemous words. However, the nuns decided to go on the cheap and have their maintenance department go to the sign with a can of black spray paint and nip the problem in the bud. Printed black ink on paper and glossy black spray paint are not really the same color. Now, instead of having a nice bright white “we’re horny” on the sign, the good nuns at St. Benedicts had a very glossy and very noticeable black “we’re horny” on the sign. The nicely angled lighting of the sign at night really enhanced the glossy paint.

Time took its toll on the sign and the paper started to droop, but the added words still showed very clearly.  Some of the black paint flaked off so there was now a checkerboard effect on the added words. A kind of Holstein “we’re horny” now graced the billboard.  Several months passed before the sign company changed the billboard to an ad for Cheerios.

I don’t think the altered sign drew any new young ladies to St. Benedicts, but I do know that several young men in bad need of a date did stop by to inquire if they could possibly borrow one of the girls for the evening. As I understand from a reliable source all those requests were denied.

This article was orginally reported by
Arian Knops

Arian is a short story contributor to the Sentinel & Rural News. Arian has written two full-length thrillers which have received critical and popular acclaim. Arian lives in Bruce, WI, with his charming wife, Arlene.