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General Interest

GETTING SPECIFIC

Being a literate and pretty literal person, like the majority of humanity, you have to wonder about some stuff you run across when practicing your reading skills either actively or passively. We were all taught reading comprehension skills at a very young age and so feel pretty confident that everything we read will make sense to us. Only that’s not always the case. Take this sign you see placed on many a roadside curve: LIMITED SIGHT DISTANCE: Doesn’t that apply pretty much to everywhere? Now you keep your eyes peeled for a sign that informs you of a place with UNLIMITED SIGHT DISTANCE, figuring you’ll just pull over for a while and take a gander at distant galaxies or the other side of the ocean. Maybe see what people are up to in Borneo.

But maybe that’s taking things a bit too literally. But sometimes you wish that signs and news reporting would be a little more specific. Like when you see a road sign stating: DANGER – MEN AT WORK, you wonder why dangerous men would announce their presence, and should you have thought to arm yourself before taking to the highways. Either that, or you are puzzled at what sort of bunglers they hired to do work that would put everyone in danger in such a pubic place as a crowded highway. So you inspect the workers as you drive slowly past the roadwork in question, looking to see if any of them resemble Moe, Larry or Curly and perhaps remind yourself to question the City Council about these things.

Then you arrive at your destination and check out the parking signs, many of which say NO PARKING. Does that mean no parking allowed or no parking possible?  If the sign meant No Parking at the 10 foot height of the sign, that would surely mean no parking is possible since your car cannot hover in midair for any appreciable length of time. You can see right away that no one seems to be challenging gravity here since no cars are parked up there. But if it means No Parking Allowed, that’s an important distinction since you see many cars parked curbside. You’re surprised at all the scientists in the area eager to field-test this earth-bound parking theory until you notice all the tickets in their windshields and decide the sign actually means No Parking Allowed.

So you move on to put your car in a garage, checking out the rates, and then you settle on what seems to be the most reasonable rate. The big sign at the entrance says $17.99 ALL DAY. Not too bad, you’re thinking, until you get up close and read the smaller print that informs you that the particular day in question is February 29th, which comes but once every four years. The day you happen to be there isn’t that day or even during a leap year so it will cost you $57.50 for five hours plus another dozen or so dollars in taxes and surcharges and 20 bucks an hour for every hour or part thereof over and above the five hours. So you pony up the dough since it’s getting close to show time and your date doesn’t want to miss the opening curtain, silently cursing lawyers for their invention of misleading small print.

Now you get to the show you told the lovely companion you have heard so many good things about. Indeed, the advertisements are bristling with raves like “You’ll be amazed!,” “Compared to A Chorus Line!” and “Broadway at its best!” Only later, after sitting through the most boring and incomprehensible stage production you’ve ever witnessed do you look up the source of the quotes and find out how creative advertisers can be. It turns out that the quotes were taken from this review: “You”ll be amazed at the nerve of the producers for even considering this tripe worthy of a fifth grade pageant, never mind the legitimate stage. Compared to ‘A Chorus Line,’ which was Broadway at its best, this production is so far down the show business food chain that rats would look down their snouts at the dumpster where this malodorous garbage will land before a week is out.”

Chastened, you head for a restaurant to complete your date, hoping to salvage your big night on the town and your hopes of impressing your companion. And so you head for “Chez Chez Cafe,” an impressively named bistro in the theater district that you have read “is the place where theater goers throng.” Only after an expensive, unsatisfying and bland meal served by waiters and a maitre’d acting like they are doing you a favor to even glance your way do you realize that the same advertising firm that promoted the show also has this restaurant’s account. If you had bothered to read the restaurant reviews you would have discovered that “this is the place where theater goers throng right past in order to get to a decent restaurant.”

And so you drive away in the knowledge that all your best laid plans will get you no more than a frosty peck on the cheek from the lovely companion as you drop her off at her place where you will not be getting to come upstairs for a nightcap or anything else your vivid imagination had anticipated. On your lonely drive home you vow to revisit your reading comprehension lessons, absently keeping an eye out for that place of unlimited sight distance, hoping to see something clear, specific, wonderful and true.

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