Here’s Your Sign

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By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter

Nailed above me was a large, decorated wooden sign: Please turn off all cell phones. No food or drinks allowed in waiting area.

Below that was another large sign, on an identical board, written in Spanish. I can only assume it was trying to spread the same message, but as I can’t read Spanish, it could have just as easily informed everyone in the waiting room that fairies and elves will be given priority seating.

Next to me was an older, bald, soft, round mustached man who cuddled beside a bleached blond 60-something-year-old sporting bubblegum lipstick and matching nail polish. She seemed very upset that the flowers on her flip flops were coming off.

He held his cell phone and told her that he would turn it down since they were in public, but that she just had to see this video. Perhaps he was partially deaf, perhaps he confused up with down, as there was nothing quiet about the volume of that phone.

Apparently the Need-To-See-Video depicted a giant fish that was scaring a dog. He did not show me; I was only allowed to listen while passive-aggressively peering at the sign and trying to make eye contact with him to display my disapproval.

It did not work. The fish video completed and then was followed by some farm animal antics. Which apparently also could not wait to be seen in privacy. I was privy only to the background music and the inane commentary of the couple.

I have learned over the years that signs can be pretty, institutional, informative or funny. Unfortunately, no one reads them, or if they do, they know that there are no repercussions if the directions on the sign are not followed. As a parent, I have learned that every threat needs a stated consequence or my child simply does not care.

Most grocery stores have one or two cashier lanes reserved for patrons who have less than 10 or 12 items. Unfortunately, many of the clientele can’t count. I’ve noticed most of the patrons, although able to buy the ingredients for an intensely complicated recipe they learned from a TV master chef, are not able to understand that 20 items is NOT the same as 12 items even if there is a “2” in both numbers.

So when the blatantly arrogant customer looks the exhausted cashier in the eye and defies her to say something about the overage of items lining the conveyer belt, the tension can be felt down the aisle. People in line behind the perpetrator start to shift back and forth while gazing at the ceiling. Peering from the corner of their eyes, they simultaneously hope for and dread a true confrontation.

But, nothing happens.

The offender pays for her overabundance of groceries and walks away with her head held high. No consequences; perhaps it is the threat of knowing that the rule-breaker would simply respond negatively to the ubiquitous online satisfaction survey and get the employee in trouble should he or she speak up.

Which reminds me: I should do an online survey or two to bestow positive feedback on the hardworking forces out there who are friendly and actually meet my needs and do their job without whining. They seem to be an exception to the rule. Unfortunately, I have no desire to have more of my metadata collected, so never mind.

No threatening sign should ever be hung without the realistic repercussions clearly outlined, perhaps with a bolder font, italics, underlines and maybe enhanced with three-dimensional graphics. I have seen plaques hung in some antique and gift stores that threaten the removal and subsequent sale of miscreant minors to traveling gyspsies. Since I have never seen a costumed gypsy caravan in Northern Virginia, I categorically have no faith that the
proprietors of these establishments can deliver on their promise. Hence, another example of a decorative sign.

Even without the ability or desire to sell children who behave poorly, these signs convey the lighthearted understanding that parents must guide their progeny carefully around the delicate, potentially expensive, merchandise on display. It is implied, with humor, that there may be consequences if poor behavior, bad choices or distracted parents result in broken valuables.

Unfortunately, the neon-lit sign that glows “12 items or less” actually seems to be a double-dog dare to break the rules. Just like the wooden sign hanging nailed onto the wall above me: Please turn off all cell phones. No food or drinks allowed in waiting area.

Understanding the general uselessness of the posted written word, I ponder whether there would be consequences if I lifted that decorative sign and repeatedly beat that cell phone until it’s a pile of plastic and metallic rubble. And I wonder if that too is a double-dog dare.

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Northern Virginia. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.

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