Here’s your sign


It might be time to give our friends across the ocean a break. True, they are pretty easy targets with all their assorted goings-on but as my neighbor Maddie says, don’t be so judgy. The French elect a man to lead the country and then almost immediately the streets are filled with people marauding and rioting and toting libelous placards in protest against him. (Wait … that sounds vaguely familiar and not overly crazy.) The Greeks can’t balance a budget. (Wait … that sounds vaguely familiar and not overly crazy.) The Brits can’t decide if they want to play and share well with others. (Wait … that sounds vaguely familiar and not overly crazy.) The Russians, well the Russians are crazy from the head cuckoo bird Putin right down to the poorest, meanest peasant. They can’t even kill their enemies in a civilized manner. Poor Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a particularly nasty agent. When that failed to silence him, Putin put him in prison. Navalny went on a hunger strike in protest of not being able to consult the physicians he wants to oversee his care. That is obviously not crazy and something all of us can relate to. Even without the poison.

But one thing all these countries have in common is a lack of dumb — really dumb — signs. When you are able and the French will permit it, go to Paris and stand on a balcony. Breathe in those Parisian fumes and gaze upon that achingly beautiful city. Go ahead, turn all-around and lean out over the balcony rail as far as your vertigo will allow. The view is unobstructed and the thing it is unobstructed by is a big sign that says “Caution: do not lean out over balcony railing and lose your balance and plummet to the bustling street below. Do not voluntarily jump off the balcony and plummet to the bustling street below. Do not use this balcony railing as a try-out venue for a spot with the Flying Wallendas. Do not drop objects off the balcony onto the bustling street below. Do not stick your head between the posts of the balcony. Do not, do not, do not.” The French, it appears, assume you are not stupid enough to do any of those things.

In this country, though, there are no such assumptions. In fact, it seems as though the prevalent presupposition is that at any given moment, someone is going to perform an act of breathtaking stupidity. This stupidity will, without fail, result in two things. 1. The event will be covered on the evening news. This will serve to give more bad ideas to people who this very minute are drunkenly balanced on a hotel balcony in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, swaying back and forth to get a good head of steam up for that catapult into the postage-stamp-sized hotel pool. P.S. They will miss. 2. The event will result in a lawsuit against whoever owns the balcony and/or the pool, resulting in either more signs or fewer balconies or both and certainly no pools. The stupid person will win the lawsuit because a jury made up of his or her peers (and where do they find them?) will reason that since there was not a sign specifically warning that falling 20 stories onto concrete is hazardous to your health, the stupid person could reasonably expect it to end well. That’s why we have signs now everywhere announcing potential peril. (“Coffee is hot.” Really?)

Here is one of my favorites. A cutlery company issued a recall of its knives because of, and I swear I am not making this up, a “laceration hazard.” That’s right, folks. If you use a knife it is entirely possible you could cut yourself. This is one of those wild, unexplained, unanticipated events that can jump right up out of nowhere and ruin your day, not to mention your finger. In a very serious vein, no pun intended, I saw a sticker on a ball of garden twine — garden twine — that warned of the danger of choking if the twine was wrapped tightly around the neck. Most people do not try to stake their pole beans up around their necks but I suppose there are always a few that have missed the briefing and might attempt it. So we have a sticker on our twine. Next, they’ll probably have to cache it behind the counter just like they do the decongestants to save us from ourselves.

I think it would be an excellent idea to write a proposal for a giant government grant to study how much all this signage costs those of us who do not currently have foliage climbing up their torsos. It could be a multi-phase endeavor, researching how much all those stickers cost and then, when the stickers are ignored and a huge settlement is conferred, how much the price of a ball of garden twine goes up to cover the cost of the lawsuit. When twine is outlawed, only outlaws will have twine.

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