Thoughts Akimbo

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Running away from bad store signs

I saw a hand-painted store sign today that proclaimed: “American Owned and Runned.”

I’m sorry, the buzzer sounded on that one. At first glance, it’s offensive – and then it’s inscrutable.

Are they reassuring me the store is not run by the Soviet KGB? Are they saying the store is operated by someone especially native, like an Eskimo?

My grandpa came over through Ellis Island wearing wooden shoes. Luckily, he was Dutch, so it didn’t look that odd. And then, after he got here, he was an American, right? Just like your grandpa, and every­body’s grandpa? So don’t give me that “us and them” non­sense.

And Mr. Sign Painter, whatever you’re trying to say, that grammar doesn’t strengthen your case.

The judges might have ac­cepted “American owned and ran,” because syntax notwith­standing, “ran” is at least an ac­tual word.

I can just picture the two guys who own that store, as the paint was drying.

One Guy: “I don’t know. It just doesn’t sound past tensey enough for me.”

Other Guy: “Well just add another ‘-ed’. That’s what I’ve always doned.”

Maybe the sign painters were just trying to be proud of their country.

We saw a lot of this in 2001. My way of coping with the weeks af­ter 9/11 was to photograph store signs that referred to the trage­dy. Store owners wanted to con­vey their patriotism, but they also wanted to ask passersby to, for heaven’s sake, please spend some money.

So we got the ironies of a Valparaiso Taco Bell sign that said: “God Bless America, Keep On Shopping” and a Merrillville diner with “Land of the Free, Polish Sausage $2” and a Lafayette restaurant with “United We Stand, Plenty of Seating Inside.”

Some day I’ll publish these photos in a coffee table book and it will become Americana.

As someone who compulsive­ly (some would say obsessively) reads everything, signs enter­tain me as I travel the nation’s byways. One of my favorite signs was one I passed every day on a long commute from Ham­mond to Valpo.  It was on the road adjacent to a farm, and it said, simply, “HAY.”

Each day as I drove by, I’d say back to it, “HEY!” It was a great example of woman-to-farm communication at its most elemental.

My current favorite sign is outside a car dealership that shall remain anonymous. In big red lights, it says, “Limited Time Ends Soon.” I suppose this refers to some sort of sale, but I like to think of its more Zen pos­sibilities.

Limited time does end soon, doesn’t it? And of course, unlimited time would end … much, much later.

So maybe that sign is urging us, the driving millions, to stop and smell the new car interiors. To Carpe Diem (which I believe is Latin for “Seize the fish!”)

Maybe it’s trying to say we should accept rather than ex­clude each other, and notice that life is short but beautiful, and not waste a single moment of it in a drowsy, hate-filled fog.

Lest we find that we have runned out of time.

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