The Sign Man

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
The tyranny imposed by the sign man, the installer and designer of forbidding signs, is explored

Submitted: May 19, 2013

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Submitted: May 19, 2013







I know with absolute surety that He exists.

I don't really know His name, but the title "The Sign Man" seems to fit well and I can imagine it emblazoned in relief gold letters on His large mahogany door. I do surmise that it is a "he" and not a "her" as it would be rather strange, for some reason, to think of The Sign Man as being a woman. You see in my mind, I can see Him sitting at his desk - He would be dressed in a beige or grey cardigan, hanging loosely around His steeped shoulders, sitting in one of those large green leather desk chairs, rocking back slightly across from a very large dark timber desk with leather inlays. The room would be slightly dark, befitting His somber profession, and a pair of wire rimmed bifocals would be sitting precariously on a rather longish nose, as he studied with precision the exact juxtaposition of a new set of signs. 

I know for sure that He exists because I see His handiwork everywhere. 

Arrive at a beautiful scenic vista, and you know He has been there already. 

Laying out the scenery with instructional or regulatory precision. There will be the usual warnings about the obvious, ensuring that what you see has already been catalogued by Him for potential risks - at each cliff face a large sign in red and black showing rocks falling, and reassuring you with "Warning - Falling Rocks"; and at the edge of the cliff "Warning - Edge May Not be Safe"; gradually escalating to shrill forbidden acts - "Jumping from Cliffs is Prohibited. Penalty $1,000". And then there are the enormous and gradually expanding lists of forbidden acts, each of which is artfully explained with a colourful icon. 

On entering a paradise beachscape, I pause slowly to take in all the things that I am absolutely forbidden to do by The Sign Man - "No Dogs" (except on Weekdays and between the hours of 6pm and 8.30am provided it is not a public holiday), "No Horse Riding", "No Guns", "No Camping", "No Bike Riding", "No Ball Games" (unless run by the local surf club), "No Fires" (except in the places provided exactly for same and except if it is a fire ban day), "No Cars", "No Archery" and then a set of warnings "Warning Strong Currents", "Warning Loose Rocks", "Warning This Beach is Unpatrolled When you Can't See any Patrol People", "Warning Hidden Rocks May be in the Water", "Warning Stingers May be in Water" .... It is clear that the warnings and signs are evolving, that this is a living project by The Sign Man, as new signs pop up, sometimes next to the old ones, as if they are breeding offspring.


In contemplation, I see the absolute inevitability of it all - the groups of signs ever expanding until they swarm across the landscape like weeds. But every forbidden act triggers dangerous thoughts - revolutionary ideas - acts that can be done, and aren't yet, not quite yet, explicitly forbidden. Acts that can be done only a few times before The Sign Man gets notified and adds to the sign forest. Perusing the forest of instructions I note that driving a trench digger onto the beach is not explicitly forbidden - missed in the overlapping catalogues and pronouncements. Thoughts that would never previously enter my mind now race with the thrill of forbidden fruit. I could do that. I could be the one. I could drive a trench digger onto the beach and build the mother of all sand castles - before it was forbidden. Safe in the knowledge that The Sign Man was watching, somewhere, somehow, and that I had the chance of being the only one who could do it - because of a wedge in time that exists between Him and Me, before he gets notified and ads a sign with a large trench digger symbol with an artful cross across it. 


Most worrying to me at the moment is that He seems to have mastered the art of breeding signs. I now see signs about signs. Large warnings telling me that defacing signs is prohibited. Or cutting them down. Even defacing signs about defacing signs is prohibited. And the roadways have provided very fruitful territory for The Sign Man and his legions of artists in this new form of sign breeding, as when you are driving, signs can now be created warning you about new signs that will shortly appear .... "80 Zone ahead" .... or signs about signs that you have just seen .... "End 80 Zone". The new art form is the concept of contingent signing, which is sign copulation without protection. This is also creating complexity into the art, and I can only imagine the glee in His eyes when this was first contemplated. "Speed Limit 100 Except When It is Raining When it Is 90 Except when the Signs Don't Work When You Should Assume It is 90" all coupled with fancy collections of symbols and icons to reinforce just how important this decision is. The precision is a pretense, as no one really knows what "raining" means do they? - does it mean a few spots, or a torrential downpour, does it mean it has just been raining and the road is wet but the sun is out - so is that raining or is it not raining? These thoughts would have raced through The Sign Man's mind as he contemplated the sheer brilliance of it all. He of all people would have foreseen the chaos implied and created by His intervention - necessitating more signs to tell everyone that the signs are serious, because now we have to have speed cameras to check whether you have passed the test, and there must be warning signs about the fact that these things are there to check on your compliance with the other signs. A master stroke! 



I did see evidence of his brilliance the other day - even I was impressed by the sheer audacity of his work. Contingent signs hidden amongst a forest of coloured signs, all of different sizes and shapes, laid out in a sequence. Imagine if you will the intersection of two huge roads - where Highway One splits into Highway One North and Ring Road Three. Four lanes bifurcating into two sets of three lanes, with cross traffic and turning traffic. Huge green signs communicating the choice with arrows and icons and names. Approaching the intersection from the south the warning signs are there. Traffic lights with at least five lights on each - straight ahead, left, right arrows. Transit Lane signs. Contingent on who is allowed in which lane at which time of day. No Right Turn Signs with small print excepting buses from the rule, and allowing it to happen at certain times. A cacophony of brake lights, turning indicators, traffic signals and incandescent illuminating signs affront me as I approach the danger zone. Navigating carefully across at the right speed, with a Kenworth B Double threatening me with a prostrate exam in my rear vision mirror, I pass through the intersection without trouble. And there, twenty metres from the edge, is His master stroke - a contingent sign. I am entering a School Zone! My speed up to navigate the intersections dangerous currents must be thwarted. But is it a School Day? A day with dangerous pupils lurking to leap across the six lane highway. Or is it a School Day that is a Pupil Free Day but which is still a School Day because of the danger of teachers leaping across the traffic? Or is it a School Holiday? A real holiday. Too late to contemplate the possibility that I and the B Double may make different decisions on this important quiz. The speed camera lurks ominously another four metres away, watching my decision with restrained contempt. I brake. I hold my breath. The B Double brakes simultaneously. The examination is postponed for another day. 




I have thought of starting a revolution. Inspired by the "Eternity Man". The man who wrote "Eternity" everywhere he could fit it in, and especially on dingy dark subways and viaducts. Inspiring a questioning thought about its meaning. Who knows what actions he may have precipitated by his challenge? I could do the same. I need a word that could be emblazoned on signs - quickly and illegally. The same word. So that people would be challenged to take up the fight. I am still searching for the word. The best I have come up with is the Leunig like word "Humbug" written in a Gothic script, or perhaps, maybe, in Arial Bold .... It seems to catch my feeling towards him and his assault on the world.

I have heard talk of a rear guard action being conducted in Scandinavia ... a place called Christianfield ... an appropriate name for such a bold experiment.  They are removing signs. By the truckload. Freeing the landscape. Trashing the byzantine rules and instructions, and freeing people to think. Roads without signs!  The amazing thing is that accidents have dropped spectactularly! Sometimes it seems as if there may be a God after all.  I think of The Sign Man and what such dangerous news would mean to him, how challenging to His world view this must be. How fantastically revolutionary such ideas must appear to Him and His legions of artists, manufacturers, installers and secretive agents. And it warms my soul to imagine how many people in His division must be working on a response - a sign warning about the danger of removing signs, or signs about the possibility that you may be entering the dangerous territory of a "sign free zone" ...

But sometimes I have darker thoughts. Imagining that I can find His office. Knowing that He probably hasn't explicitly forbidden things there, in His private secretive Garden of Eden. I imagine myself entering, smiling smugly as I notice that there is absolutely no notice forbidding me from landing a warning punch swiftly onto His long nose, disturbing His glasses. I hasten to add that I am not a violent man. I would just be making a point. You see I need Him to add a sign to His door ... one with a lovely symbol on it. Saying the obvious that "Physical Assaults on The Sign Man are Expressly Forbidden" , so that every time He enters his Garden He will have to contemplate the possibility of an attack and its risk and take precautionary action. It would seem like justice to me, and it does give me a certain thrill as I think of it, as I walk my dog in a strictly forbidden manner, along the beach.




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