September 28, 2009

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign

From the song ‘Signs’, by the Five Man Electrical Band

I have a new theory about mankind, sorry, I mean, person-kind namely that we / you / me and even ‘them’ (as in ‘they’) are signophobic. Signs. We’re terrified of them.

No, this does not mean that we, quote ‘fear or dislike China, it’s people, or it’s culture’, which is the synonym ‘sinophobic’, depending on the accent of your choice. Of course not! I have a lot of friends and loved ones from China and I would never besmirch them in any way (now those bloody New Zealanders, that’s another story, otter-loving jerks...!). Besides anybody out there clever enough to invent Kung Pao chicken is okay in my book.

Nor do I mean either the kind of people that seem to delight in their wanton disregard for authority as they speed through your neighborhood – despite the signs indicating that children are at play. And I am not including even the majority of us that seem to think that speed limits are ‘subjective’ measurements to be obeyed by anyone else but ourselves (after all, WE are in a hurry, so YOU should move aside, thankyouverymuch!). Please, give me at least this much as a sign of your respect.

Traffic signals in New York are just rough guidelines.
David Letterman

No, surprisingly enough I got to thinking about this during a recent discussion on religion. I had caught up with a good friend of mine that I’ve known for the better part of 60% of my life, give or take a month here and there for sulking purposes. But as the fates would have it, somewhere there in our catching-up discussion, she had indicated that she considered herself a ‘jubu’ (pronounced ‘jew-boo’) – which apparently means ‘technically Jewish, but with a strong disposition towards Buddhism.’

Now, let’s just ignore the obvious question for a moment – namely, how can you be technically involved in a certain religion (it apparently involves something to do with having ‘Intel Inside’ and having enough RAM... but I’m not real clear on that, as we had by then commenced on the ceremonial second six pack of the Rites of Reacquaintance)? My question was instead on wondering how had she come to that kind of end decision, particularly as I knew as well that her parents were pretty much by-the-book Southern Baptists... which I’ll give you is an argument in itself for her rather unique but respected change-over.

If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank.
Woody Allen

So we talked for a while more and found that she had indeed found a fulfilling and well-grounded way of leading her life. It seemed really to be more of a wholesome and welcoming religious set-up – complete with a strong group of friends – coupled with some good old-fashioned, down-to-earth (or was it up-to-heaven?), ‘I’m happy, you’re happy, let’s go hug a tree for good measure’ philosophy.

In fact, as has happened to many people of my generation that decided they didn't want the whole thing to stop with us, she had even become a loving mother of one angelic little creature. So, despite the rather interesting title and teasing references to what religions actually let you do what on any given day of the week, my friend had most certainly created a wholesome and healthy environment for raising a child in as well. It was good to see the signs that not everything in life has to change as we were quickly aware that great friendships stand the tests of time and all the other crap that happens during it’s passing.

As we talked further about our lives since we were last together (switching words such as parties, beer and wacky with such timely phrases as liver spots, hemorrhoid remedies and cholesterol count), I asked innocently enough I thought had she received a ‘sign’ about the whole thing. Well, you would have thought I’d asked ‘did a third eye suddenly appear on your forehead?’ (I did in fact lean forwards at one point to check and can confirm, that no, it was not a third eye... more of an extra ear really... hardly noticed it if truth be told...)

But seriously, how would any of us react today if someone were to say with full conviction that they had in whatever-way ‘seen a sign’ about whatever-thing? Note that this does NOT count the number of LEGITIMATE claims world-wide that (insert deity or deities of your choice here, not including Elvis) quite regularly appear(s) to us in the remains of breakfast cereal bowls, cheese sandwiches and even the finer kind of mould that grows on kitchen appliances! Or these very real examples of a farmer ‘training’ his pear trees to bear Buddha shaped fruit (I kid you not! Aren't they adorable and all buddhaey?)!

After all, just imagine if Moses had come down from the Mount in modern times with essentially his sign-like tablets in hand. Our first thoughts after wondering where he could have gotten such quality stone-work done so quickly (answer: his Uncle Murray from the South Side). In addition, our reactions would be most likely along the lines of ‘hm, I hadn’t really thought about coveting my neighbor’s wife, she is kind of cute. Come to think of it, his goat ain’t bad either...’

My theology, briefly, is that the universe was dictated but not signed.
Christopher Morley (1890 - 1957)

Honestly, wasn’t the whole handing down of the Ten Commandments sort of like putting a ‘Do Not Push’ sign next to a large button labelled ‘Warning: If You Do Push, You WILL Destroy The Universe’ in a ‘Three Stooges’ movie? And by Stooges, no, I do not mean the Executive, Congressional and Judicial branches. I think of it as sort of the same thing as the garden of Eden. And ye, the Good Lord did rappeth: ‘Hey kids, look, just one rule: whatever you do don’t eat that tasty red apple over there that you probably hadn’t seen yet because you’re wondering why you have different looking genitalia!’

Sigh, poor Eve. Could there be any doubt what was going to happen next? Of course: eventually, that big ol’ red button got itself proverbially pushed, it all went boom and we wound up with the celestial pie getting splatted in our faces! A heavenly sign from above of progress if there ever was one, no?

Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not wish to sign his work.
Anatole France (1844 - 1924)

After all, are we not a people that routinely ignore signs? For example, it was just over a year ago that Lehman Brothers collapsed, sending the world’s economy into it’s current on-going tail-spin. Now, yes friends, NOW we see all the talk-shows doing what they do best, which is talk about the signs that led up to that event. But don’t you think someone could have reacted a little more strongly BEFORE all this actually happened?

Isn’t all of this kind of like putting up a sign saying ‘Beware of Falling Rocks’ just after the avalanche has occurred and taken out the towns in the valley below? I mean, hey, thanks for that, Prime Minister Chamberlain! Any other things that swell fellow Hitler signed off on for you? Maybe a kleine Christmas card wishing all the best for the troops and dem Koenig, too, hm?

If I could get my membership fee back, I'd resign from the human race.
Fred Allen (1894 - 1956)

I do find that there is more than enough contradiction in these arguments. After all, we speak all the time about ‘what sign are you’ (oh, sorry, I forgot to add the requisite ‘hey baby’ in front of that ... it’s been a while since I was single ... or let out alone for that matter). It’s also clear that many have a deep and sincere belief in their astrological denominations. For example, my wife and I were told repeatedly during the months leading up to our wedding that our mutual signs were indeed a good, er, sign for a long life of happiness together. Okay, so we were both born under signs of fairly common crustaceans ... and that means what exactly? That our strong, star-driven exoskeletons would protect us from harm? That we’d have a fulfilling life of clicking our claws together in joy and the hopeful reproduction into thousands of little side-winding babies? (What? Oh sorry, make that one predatory anthropod and one decapod crustacean... man, I’m always getting those confused, a sure sign of senility, eh?)

I myself even once befriended an extremely devout albeit often conflicted Catholic who would not even step outside of the house should her horoscope say something bad was going to happen to her that day. No false idols here, just silly little signs I guess, huh? But gods forbid should she have ignored them! When we wound up travelling for a while together through Europe, we had to detour to every Cathedral in the region just to dip our fingers in the ‘magic’ water. But damned if we could catch our next train on time if we weren’t able to find the translated horoscopes for Virgo’s for the coming week.

Warning signs that lover is bored: 1. Passionless kisses; 2. Frequent sighing; 3. Moved, left no forwarding address.
Matt Groening, creator of ‘The Simpsons’

In addition, we all have seen recently that Asiatic cultures put a great deal of weight on both the Year Signs they are born under (phew, I am SO glad I’m a Dragon, and not something icky like a Rat), as well as ‘good luck signs’ of marrying on certain dates or even avoiding that their businesses have various combinations of numbers in them. I even read somewhere that a Chinese businessman paid something like a half-million dollars for a lucky-numbered license plate for his car! Did you read as well about all the people world-wide that got married on the 9th of September (hint: 9th month of the year) in 2009? Except Japan, where 9 is a bad sign.

And isn’t it just a bit silly in Western ‘culture’ that so many modern buildings still to this day avoid ‘putting in’ a 13th floor? Honestly, if you’re standing there and counting, doesn’t it dawn on you that the so-called 14th floor is really number 13? Plus, just look at lotteries: what do you think the statistics say about people writing in the number 13 on their choices, even though this number has the opportunity to come up as often as the rest? That isn’t – as ‘they’ say – a worrisome sign then to anyone?

Hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign, even in the wizarding world.
J. K. Rowling, author and extremely rich person, from ‘Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets’, 1999

But at the same time, aren’t we a people that respond to the ‘signage’ around us? We love watching the leaves fall, a sure sign of the fact that autumn is here and soon, yes, very soon we will all be complaining bitterly (pun intended) about the winter’s cold. In terms of economics and our infatuation with same, we are slaves to advertising, logos and brand imaging. Our exposure to such beasties is said to number in the thousands every day. Another worrisome sign that we do – or more likely don’t – even notice it anymore? Have these then led us to abandon our beliefs in signs that speak to our souls and instead to our inner mantra of ‘whoever dies with the most toys, wins?’ Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m drinking Coke instead of Pepsi just to make sure I’m included in the right type of generation. Or is it the other way around? Whatever, I just want the one that makes all the pensioners want to go dancing, that’s for me.

When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
Jonathan Swift (1667 - 1745), ‘Thoughts on Various Subjects’

So, are we indeed signaphobic and if so, why? Well, would you argue with the fact that we seem to be the only species on earth that ignores certain signs around us until it is too late? Heck, ever try to get rid of ants or cockroaches around the house? The first sign they see of a few dozen of their brethren and sis- , uh, -thren dropping dead and they rush to pick up the whole nest and head for safer ground (read: somewhere even closer to something you’ll find even grosser once you find them there... like your underwear drawer). And viola, the next morning there they are downstairs in even greater numbers, drinking your fresh brewed coffee and marching across the counter with your bagels and creme cheese in tow. Whoa, that’s a pharoically bad sign for sure.

Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.
Bill Watterson, creator of ‘Calvin and Hobbes’

Honestly, what if gorillas had little more intelligence and could influence things around them? Don’t you think one of them would have stood up well before Dian Fossey came along and sad ‘oh crap, we need to get the fudge out of here.’ Or that if dolphins could just jimmy that last bit of DNA into the right order, they’d be out there screaming ‘hey enough of the friggin’ tuna nets already, we’re trying to swim out here!’ I doubt man would even blink an eye at such signs.

But how many people do you think are really taking the last days images from either the East Coast of the US or even Australia as a ‘sign’ that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better? And if you’re like me and believe that this is all a case of ‘Global Correction’ which is going to be a hell of a lot worse than anyone talking about Global Warming could imagine, you just wonder how there can be any doubters out there left. Seriously folks, it’s time to admit: Mother Nature is somewhat of a real bee-yatch... and she’s really pissed off at us.

Oh Cat in the Hat, Would it be / Could it be better if someone were to put a large sign on the moon that read just bluntly ‘U R Screwed!’? Sure, then every man, woman and other being on Earth could look up every night and ‘get it’. But who am I kidding? We’d most likely just shrug and say, ‘oh it’s just a sign of summer coming to an end.’ Indeed.

In fact, isn’t one of the best methods to go around ‘hidden’ in public to carry a sign with you? I just watched a great film the other day where one of the ‘anti-heroes’ (not a villain, but not quite a hero either) hid his secret identity in plain daylight by walking around with a sign that read ‘The End Is Nigh’. No one would look at him, in fact, he accomplished his target of having people avoid ANY contact with him. Just carry a sign with you and smell really bad was his motto.

I knew I'd been living in Berkeley too long when I saw a sign that said 'Free firewood" and my first thought was "Who was Firewood and what did he do?'
John Berger

Heck, if I were to walk around with a randomly worded sign anywhere near here, someone would either steal the sign and try to re-sell the nails, or a dozen people would stop me within ten minutes to point out I’d misspelled ‘night’. What a signature move, eh?

Just go on-line as well (well, duh, I guess you're already there if you're reading this). In one dictionary search, I found that there were 221 listed ‘English’ words that contained the ‘word’ sign in them. Resignation, signature, signals, you name it (it’s all Latin to me somehow, which is even more hard to understand than Greek ... and the food is worse, too). Heck, even this site is dedicated in one way or another (hint: another) to design. And in terms of phrases, well, we talk about signs of weakness and signs of strength. We sign up, sign in and sign out every day of the year. In searching for others ‘out there’, we talk about ‘signs of intelligent life’ or as many would argue about our own local status, the lack thereof. But heck, if they start landing in our corn fields and leave all these cool markings everywhere, then some dude is bound to make a movie about such signs, that’s for sure.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
Steve Jobs

Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.
Paul Rand

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
Douglas Adams, Writer and Philosopher-extremus, from the book ‘Mostly Harmless’

And again, we are indeed apt to wax nostalgic about the ‘signs of the times’ (question: can you actually buy nostalgic wax somewhere?)! Yet we almost never adhere to the sound advice of ‘those that do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.’ Nothing is valid until we sign on the dotted line and who hasn’t been teased about ‘signing away their life’ for better or worse (was that a pun on marriage?). All we can say after that is ‘there seems to have at least been a sign of struggle.’

Drink nothing without seeing it; sign nothing without reading it.
Spanish Proverb

So what is it: are we afraid of signs? Do they control us too much? Do we feel like they run our lives and block us somehow from reaching true fulfilment? Do we feel too out of control when we see signs? And what happens if the ones we see aren’t correct? What if it happens like so often here in the area that we are sent on a detour that connects only to, yes you guessed it, another detour. If you can’t believe the signs, what can you believe?

I am left therefore to wonder, ponder and even sign a bit with my hands (universally understood words only) to try and make sense of it all. Does the word itself speak to some hidden fear within us, going back to the days huddled in some cold cave with only the light of the neon Budweiser sign to keep us company against the vastness of the night? Or is it in man’s nature, to boldly go where no sign has been before?

Please, I really want to know. All I need is just a little sign...

Thank you and best regards for now from the continually cluttered desk of Ziggy Nixon.

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, just what does an empty desk mean?
Author Unknown

I swear I did not make this sign up...

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