Signs, Co-signs and Tangents

The sign on the vending machine at the post office says, “Change is given in Susan B. Anthony dollars!,” with the exclamation mark at the end. I don’t know if the punctuation is meant as enthusiasm or as a warning. Do they mean, “Hey! Guess what?! Change is given in SUSAN B. ANTHONY DOLLARS!! Woo-hoo!!!”? Or do they mean, “BE CAREFUL: If you use this machine and require change, you’re going to be stuck with Susan B. Anthony dollars. Just so you know”? (The point is moot anyway, because what the machine ACTUALLY gives you are Sacajawea dollars.)

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The sign on the shopping cart corral in the parking lot at Albertson’s says, “For your safety and convenience, please return shopping carts here.” In truth, returning the shopping cart to the corral is neither safe nor convenient for me. Not convenient because it means walking farther, and not safe because I’ve been drinking heavily. The MOST convenient thing would be to just leave the cart in the parking lot, like most people do, and that’s not particularly unsafe, either, though it does increase the potential for damage to people’s cars.

But most people don’t think about that stuff. Most people see “for your safety and convenience,” and they think, “Hey, I like things that are safe and convenient! I’m going to do whatever that sign tells me!” If the sign said, “For your safety and convenience, please remove your pants,” people would be halfway unzipped before they realized that didn’t make any sense. I know I would be. (See: I’ve been drinking heavily.)

What Albertson’s MEANS is, “For OUR convenience, please return shopping carts here.” They should make it say that.

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The signs on several parking spaces at Golden Corral say, “Reserved for senior citizens.”

This is Golden Corral. Isn’t the whole place reserved for senior citizens?

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The sign near the check-out at Wal-Mart says, “For your convenience, tobacco and alcohol is sold only at register #19. Thanks!”

I’m ill-equipped to even address the issue of using “is” when “are” is called for — unless “Tobacco&Alcohol” is a new combo product I don’t know about — let alone to handle the fact that this poorly worded sign is reproduced and placed on every register in the store.

The more important issue is, how does selling cigarettes and beer at only one register make things more convenient for me, the average customer? It benefits me in no way whatsoever. And if I were actually buying tobacco and/or alcohol and/or Tobacco&Alcohol, it would be the very opposite of convenient — inconvenient, that would be — to make me stand in one specific line instead of whichever line I wanted. What if register #19 has the longest line in the entire store, full of dumpy women stuffed into their belly shirts buying baby formula while accompanied by three filthy barefoot children? Then I, as a cigarette or beer purchaser, have been inconvenienced beyond all reason, if I am indeed forced into register #19’s line!

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The poster in the doctor’s examining room lists several sexually transmitted diseases and their symptoms. For chlamydia, it says, “burning sensation when you urinate,” followed by the explanatory “(pee).”

It is alarming to think there are individuals capable of having sex and contracting chlamydia who have to be told what “urinate” means.

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The billboard says, “Super man,” and it has a picture of Christopher Reeve, who of course fell off a horse and now he can’t walk and that means he’s a hero, or something. Then it says, “Strength. Pass It On.” It is a billboard advertising “Strength.” It does not indicate where a person can obtain this product, however. Is it at stores? Is it online? Where do you get Strength?

Another billboard from the same campaign has a picture of some guy and says, “Climbed Everest. Blind.” This billboard is brought to you by “Vision,” which seems rather cruel, given that it has a picture of a blind guy on it, though I guess maybe he doesn’t know.

But anyway, apparently, this guy climbed Mr. Everest despite being visually impaired. That is a stunning achievement indeed. It caused me to reflect on my own limitations, specifically the fact that if I were his guide up the mountain, I would stop after a couple hours of climbing and say, “Well, here we are at the top! Didn’t take as long as I thought it would!” and then head back down. And that makes me a bad person.

I'd been storing some of these up for a while, waiting until I had enough of them for a column. Originally I had hoped to somehow tie them all together -- i.e., so it wasn't just a list of funny signs -- but then I abandoned that in favor of the format you see here. One of them originally appeared as a blog item several months ago, and audience members at my Portland show in March 2004 heard the Christopher Reeve/blind guy bit, more or less. (They were appalled by the "fell off a horse and now he can't walk and that means he's a hero or something" line, by the way. So if you are, too, you're in good company.)