Sign Me Up

photoThe sign says it all. Down on his luck and looking for not just money, but some rich woman to help him through his crises. Very creative indeed and it got me wondering what the best signs you’d ever seen were? I recall one morning in San Francisco the guy next to me on the train into town was writing his and as he did, he was asking passengers around him to chip in with some ideas. The responses were hilarious and often quite rude, but the best of which put me on the floor with laughter. One traveler turned round to the guy and offered up in his best broken English, “Tell them you will take their verbal abuse for a dollar donation!” “Who’s verbal abuse?” someone else shouted out. “Does it matter” replied the man, “as long as he gets his dollar!”

Yes, I have seen them all, from “Not going to lie, I need a beer!” to “Give me 25 cents so I can feed my dog” “Obama’s not the only one who needs change!” Every day there seems to be new creative ways for these unfortunate down and out’s to muster up creativity and support that will get them enough cash to see them through each miserable hour they suffer on cold unfriendly streets. Every one of them is desperate and ready to give up everything for a warm bath and a hot meal. Or are they?

It’s very hard to tell the genuine from the dishonest. Again, I have covered this in past blogs, but if we really do want to make a difference to someone’s life without taking from the bad to give to the good, how do we really know? How can you, the general public, determine what’s a good ‘donation’ and what’s a bad decision? The answer lies with experience and with a certain amount of luck.

I have found that those who genuinely need money never make signs. They just stand with their head bowed, hands out and cup at the ready. Those who have gone to the trouble of making a sign are normally addicted to either booze, drugs or both. It just seems to work that way. I have no idea what the guy above is on. He was a random reflection of our society, in my opinion, and someone who really has nothing to gain except the occasional laugh or two from passers-by. It’s symptomatic of our society, you know, the one where everything has to happen now, not later, where instant gratification and channel surfing are the order of each day, where waste outnumbers want, where saying hello to a passer-by is as uncommon as meeting a child without ear buds or an iPhone, that a hand written sign makes those with little or indeed without feel comfortable that this is their cue for redemption and hope. Words used to mean something, though not so much now. Now, words are for those who enjoy the overuse of superlatives, for those who have to live their lives surrounded by adjectives, often persuasive, often misleading. We as a society are attracted to those who seem different, who try harder than others. Is this then why signs, advertisements, run our lives? From street signs to bill boards to the signs carried by those mentions above, are we just immune now to the spoken word?

My first thought when I saw this sign was to rush up and donate some advice and not money. In the end, like most of those around me, I just laughed. His invention was probably the folly of my short-sightedness. His ability to impress is definitely the reason he received cash along with much interest from mainly transient tourists who came by asking for a picture next to their new hero. Local people just accepted that this was another day on streets that are often as cruel as they are fulfilling. To gain attention is to gain compensation, or at least that’s the way it seems to be in our lives today. In the USA, more than any other place on earth, people idolize success, and successful people are sometimes Gods of misfortune for those who try to replicate their lives around the behavioral patterns that they often idolize, ending up just like the gentleman above and not like the hero they would prefer to emulate.

And therefore my advice, for what it’s worth, is as follows. If you need cash or love or just plain old attention, don’t make a sign, make an effort to sign up to a better way, a simpler way and the way where life began all those millennia ago. Open your mouth and talk! Plain old-fashioned speak! No pen required, just an ability to communicate the way nature meant it to be.

I’m signing off now, without any need to broadcast that fact!

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