The Signs Are Everywhere

THEY’RE OUT TO GET ME. Not people, exactly—I’m not that paranoid. I don’t think. Maybe I am. But the signs are out there. Warnings. Announcements. Poorly spelled, malapropian, bewildering, pun-filled yet stern signs.

I should get to work. My class starts at 3:15 today.

I’m running early, so I can take the long way. Although if I do that I’ll have to pass the new sign that features John Wayne in a cowboy hat saying, “Don’t much like quitters, son.” It’s supposed to be inspirational. But John Wayne died of lung cancer after being a lifelong smoker. He might not like quitters the way Donald Trump doesn’t like “losers” but that sign inspires me to snicker snidely. The Duke didn’t quit, and look where it got him.

If I take the two-lane highway to Loganville and hang a left at the sign for Decatur, I can easily make my class. It’s longer in miles, yet shorter because of scant traffic, but there’s a sign on this route put up by a local podiatrist—it’s actually a billboard that shows a picture of a suppurating sore at the tip of a toe. “Dr. Foote the Foot Doctor” is the best darn doc to fix up your gout, your fungus, your ingrown pinkie toe. He’s folksy. It’s a gross looking sign, not unlike the green phlegm creature in the ads for Musinex or the bowels constantly looking for the toilet in the Xifaxan ad. Someone tweeted: “The pink-twisted-intestine smiling-turtle character in an ad for Xifaxan, an anti-IBS drug, is David Lynch-level unsettling.” I second that emotion.

My emotions are not lyrical. Signs piss me off. The state fair this year will feature a hamburger in a donut and fried cheese curds. Now there’s a billboard idea: free Xifaxan with every order.

My classes usually contain over 50 percent literal believers of the Bible. I cannot say, “Oh, my god, did you read the headline this morning about the Supreme Court?” That’s blasphemy. While the debate still rages over whether a Ten Commandments display belongs on an American courthouse lawn, my students refuse to accept that different denominations use different commandments. I was trying to show them how much a single word can matter, how much baggage there is in the article “the.” There is no the Ten Commandments. I didn’t want to talk about religion. I wanted to talk about grammar, about the handout I made with Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant examples. Three students insisted they’re Christians and therefore different. (In the South this usually means someone who goes to a non-denominational, non-mainstream church, has a personal, direct relationship with Jesus, and so on.) I was confused. They were not. Most students pass a sign two blocks from campus that says: “Big Bang Theory? You’ve got to be kidding. Signed, God.”

If I take the bridge around the north side of town, I have to pass an evangelical Church. They are alerting me—yes, me in particular—that I’m going to hell. They don’t mention a handbasket, so the conveyance and timing is up in the air. That church is sarated from two other churches by a Circle K convenience store. “K” is not a circle Dante mentions, but this Circle K does sell kettle chips and gummy bears, so it’s some kind of not-so-fresh hell. Their sign says “Circle K Kola will make your day go by sweetly.” The man we bought our house from often drops by to look at “what all you did to our place” since he moved himself and the missus to a quieter part of town. When he leaves, he always looks me in the eye, points, and says, “You be sweet, now.” It’s an order. Sometimes I take it seriously, but not enough to buy a gallon of off-brand soda.

christian-signsOne of the church signs says they are a welcoming congregation. The one next door bears a sign that says: “Know Jesus, know peace; No Jesus, no peace.”

The week before it yelled out: “Love Jesus or Go to Hell!”

I don’t believe in hell. I don’t believe the roadsign sign that screams “Fresh! Boiled! Peanuts! Delicious!” either. I believe I’d get a helluva stomachache if I bought some and ate them.

If I want to be welcomed or warned, I’d rather mull the sign I saw at Myakka River State Park in Florida: “Feeding, Enticing, or Molesting Alligators is prohibited.” Now we’re talking wise signage.

Next, I see a Pentecostal church sign in a storefront window of a dying strip mall. It says, “Get behind me Satin.” Perfect. I am cheered enough to continue the journey toward the light, confident that I’m trailing an elegant bolt of imaginary cloth behind me, all devil-may-care, and devil take the hindmost.