Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

In which the author finds beauty in how people tell other people what to do.

Cleanliness is NOT Next to Godliness

photoI don’t know about you, but most of the places I’ve ever been (worked, lived) people are heartily encouraged to do the dishes.

But I guess dishwashing is not welcome everywhere. This sign is in a public bathroom in Lieber State Recreation Area near Cagles Mill (or Cataract) Lake in Southern Indiana. (My guess is that food waste clogs the bathroom sink drains, or that people doing dishes take up more than their fair share of sink time.)

p.s., Thanks to Abe Schwab for the photo.

Warning: Extreme Danger

extreme_dangerOK, a bit of my own history. This is me (on the left) with my pal Eric Fruhauf, back in the early 90’s. The picture was taken at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, in Vancouver, BC.

What can I say? The sign is clear. But we were in our 20’s, and it was just too tempting. Naturally, we didn’t go far past the fence the sign was on, and certainly nowhere near the genuinely-dangerous dropoff you can see in the background.

Men Overhead

men_overheadThis was on a narrow and crowded sidewalk on Yonge Street in Toronto. There were, indeed, men (or rather one man) working overhead. (So the gendered language was accurate — this time.)

What am I actually supposed to do, faced with this sign? What does exercising caution look like here? Does it merely mean, say, not loitering on the spot, in order to minimize the chance that something might fall on my head? If that’s a real risk, then it’s a real risk to the hundreds of people who each spent a second or two walking through.