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A Stranger to Ribbons Gets Tangled Up in Hues

April 11, 1993

A stranger has wandered among us and she does not understand the message thing. Where this stranger comes from, people just talk to each other, without warning, without a setting of terms.

They don't have personalized license plates where our stranger comes from. They don't pay for the honor of wearing advertising on their T-shirts or on the seat of their pants or on their purse clasps.

And they don't do ribbons.

Our stranger especially does not understand ribbons. See, she never really got it when some lounge lizard with country-Western leanings made a hit out of a song about a prison convict and an old oak tree and a yellow ribbon.

But so as not keep herself up at night, our stranger conjured up even bigger imponderables, like Wayne Newton and Newt Gingrich and Roseanne Arnold, and determined that life was too short for such angst. She took some sleeping pills.

Then when she woke up, she found that war had been declared. Well, not really declared , because it seems Vietnam got rid of that precedent. Now American soldiers just deploy, and operations are declared.

Anyway, after the person over at the Pentagon, or on Madison Avenue or wherever it was, declared Operation Desert Storm, the yellow ribbons started showing up. And even our stranger could understand that the ribbons were making a statement of sorts.

Only she got a little confused as to what this statement might mean.

At first she thought it meant, "I'm here for you when you get out of the big house," but then she realized that Tony Orlando was not in need of being liberated from a Kuwaiti jail.

Then she allowed herself to employ a little poetic license, ribbon-wise, and figured out that the yellow streamers everywhere meant, "Come home soon, you soldier you."

Except then she thought that could be construed as an anti-war statement and the people who were festooning themselves and their property with yellow ribbons didn't exactly look like those pinko anti-war protesters of yore.

So our stranger started actually asking people what their yellow ribbons meant.

This proved a little startling to the ribbon wearers, seeing as how it seemed everybody but our stranger understood. The ribbon wearers would wonder where our stranger was "coming from," especially since she was not wearing a ribbon herself.

This is how those conversations went, more or less.

Our Stranger: "Excuse me, why are you wearing a yellow ribbon on your lapel?"

Another Stranger: "You know, it's a yellow ribbon. For Desert Storm!"

Our Stranger: "Excuse me, why is that yellow bow on your mailbox?"

A Different Stranger: "Why do you think? To show that Saddam Hussein!"

By and by, our stranger figured out that ribbons don't kill communication, people do.

Of course, now our stranger thinks of the yellow ribbon days as simpler times. Back then, the link was relatively clear: Tony Orlando-Saddam Hussein-yellow ribbon earrings.

Even if she didn't really understand, our stranger pretended that she did, to get along, to be a good American.

But now things are really getting confusing. It seems a whole new era of ribbons has dawned. AND THERE'S NOT EVEN A SONG!

Sorry. Our stranger has been under a good deal of stress lately. She traces it to AIDS, not the disease AIDS, but the ribbon AIDS.

The AIDS ribbon is red. Our stranger doesn't know why it's red, but she figures that if she asked one of the celebrities who is wearing a red ribbon (or for those who didn't get the official satin entry, a reasonable facsimile in rhinestone or rubies), that celebrity might answer, "Well, why not red?"

And our stranger would be stumped. Because she's really an existentialist at heart.

So she's not going to bother asking about red ribbons. And were she to ponder the larger question implicit in the ribbon quandary--that is, "Ribbons. Why?"--she would never, ever get any rest.

Therefore, our stranger wants everyone to know that she will henceforth not deal with ribbons. She believes, but is not absolutely certain, that she understands as much about ribbons as she ever will.

White ribbons, for example, protest sexual harassment. Purple ribbons take a stand against urban violence. Green ribbons mourn a murdered loved one. Pink ribbons are very concerned about breast cancer.

Undoubtedly, some ribbons are being left out. No offense is intended here. Our stranger might talk about it with you, but alas, if only she knew how. She doesn't plan on joining a ribbon club soon.

But, wait, it seems there is something altogether new in the ribbon field, and it's not even a ribbon at all.

Did you know that April 1 was "Red Nose Day USA?" Our stranger saw a picture of a Republican state legislator who was wearing a little Rudolph-like orb on the end of his nose. This was to call attention to Sudden Infant Death syndrome.

Yes, it was on April Fool's Day, but our stranger swears she is not making this up.

She just needs to get some rest.

Dianne Klein's column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Readers may reach Klein by writing to her at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7406.

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