Biff America: Old loves, new signs (column)
Erotic reminiscing, obsessive, compulsive urges and a sense of inadequacy. How could all that be going on in one person’s brain at the same time?
Forty-plus years ago Margret (Maggie) O’Neill gave me a remedial introduction to the facts of life. She was an older woman, perhaps 18 to my 16 years, and lived two towns away. She would always take off her dainty gold crucifix necklace and hang it from her car’s rear view mirror when we would park at D.W. Fields Park in Brockton, Massachusetts. I’m fairly sure I was not her only student and she dumped me only a few weeks into my first semester.
Having traveled many miles and years since then, I’d almost forgotten what Maggie looked like. But I was reminded of her when I had to sit through a “way-finding” presentation given by a lady who was Maggie’s spitting image. Doing the math, I knew that the young gal in question could not be Maggie’s daughter. And certainly the odds of me encountering my old flame’ granddaughter a half-country from Mass were very long.
Memories of Maggie’s necklace hanging from the mirror of her Chevy Nova and my high school fumblings were kindled by her modern-day look alike.
This helped me better focus on the subject on which the young lady was presenting but of which I had little to offer — “way-finding,” or more simply put “signs.”
Our town fathers have determined many of our current signage needs improving. Maggie’s doppelganger was a sign consultant who created several options that could be used for different applications in various locations. Since I sit on our town council I was asked to opine.
Now I hate to toot my own horn. Not only is it self-aggrandizing, but it is also hard on my back. But, I will boast that my greatest political skill is that I know what sucks about myself. For that reason I would be much more inclined to leave the signage decision-making to those with taste and or that particular skill-set.
When Maggie’s twin started her presentation, I was able to focus as she displayed 10 or 15 different signs that, to me, looked much the same. Soon after I began to zone out.
About 30 minutes into the presentation, the ‘70s song by the Five Man Electrical Band called “Signs” came to mind. Soon after, any thoughts of Maggie (old or new) were gone as I tried to remember the lyrics.
“And the sign said ‘long-haired freaky people need not apply’ / So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why. / You look like a fine upstanding young man I think you’ll do. / So I took off my hat and said, “Imagine that, me working for you.”
I pretended to pay attention as the various fonts, shapes and configurations were presented, but in reality I could not get that song out of my mind. What was worse, I could not remember past the first verse. When that happens it helps for me to sing the song in my head from the beginning to see if I can bust through what I remember to what I don’t.
I sang the first verse ten times to myself before the chorus (“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign / Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind. / Do this don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”) came to me.
It was just after that breakthrough when I was asked for an opinion. I gave my thoughts but mostly my mind was trying to come up with the part of the song that deals with trespassing (something I’m sometimes guilty of). As the presentation droned on, my brain could not let go of that song.
Then, in an almost Rain Man-like mental explosion, I remembered — “And sign said, anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight. / So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, / ‘what gives you the right, to put up fences to keep me out but to keep mother nature in?’ / If God was here he’d tell you to your face, ‘Man you’re some kind of sinner.’”
It was a rapturous relief for me to have recalled those words until I realized that I had sung them out loud in the middle of the presentation. I could feel all eyes in the room on me and the modern day Maggie gave me a look of frustrated disappointment.
I remembered that look, some things never change.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or http://shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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