On a narrow white shelf holding audio equipment in the activity room of the gym in Brooklyn I visit twice a week, there’s a sign, printed on letter-size paper, that I stare at in between sets of sit-ups or kettlebell swings. The sign says:
No One Is To Use
When I stare at the sign, my mind cycles through three thoughts. The first is that this sign is a riddle waiting to be solved, a Zen koan of some sort. Nobody is to use the stereo. Nobody? That’s right, only the instructors. But wait, you said –
The second is that someone more motivated than I should start a blog called “Thanks, Management” collecting humorous signs posted by gym managers, restaurant managers, building managers, etc. (I would contribute a second sign, from a diner bathroom in New Mexico: “Please Don’t wipe booger’s on the wall’s or throw wet Paper on the ceiling’s. thanks, mngt”)
The third thought is that if you gave the task of writing the sign to virtually anyone with a notion of writing with clarity, the resulting sign would say something like, “Only instructors may use the stereo.”
And the resulting sign also wouldn’t be as interesting.
When I look past the faults in the original sign’s logic and to its intent, what interests me is its distinct voice. It’s written, I’m willing to bet, by someone who writes the way they talk, rather than someone overly concerned with writing signs. There’s a deeper conversation here, about interestingness and subjectivity, but since it’s Sunday night and I only have a few hundred words, I’ll keep it to this: the more we’re exposed to concisely written signs, the less interesting they become, and consequently, the easier they are to ignore. For someone in New York City who is exposed daily to volumes of concisely-written signs on bus shelters, billboards, wildpostings, subway ads – to signs that sound like other signs – a piece of writing that sacrifices pithiness for genuine vernacular, even unintentionally, is a small wonder.
Just as, on the other hand, for someone inundated with wordy paradoxical signs in the local vernacular, a concisely written sign is a similar wonder. The sign in my gym – and every sign, for that matter – gets its interestingness from its relationship to every other sign we have ever seen.
DB first told me about the following over drinks months ago, and this week it showed up in a book I’ve been reading:
The Buddha compared the universe to a vast net woven from a countless variety of brilliant jewels, each with a countless number of facets. Each jewel reflects in itself every other jewel in the net and is, in fact, one with every other jewel.