It was a sunny morning when Charlie sat down to create the sign. Having searched all over town for a pre-made sign that would have suited his purpose, and having failed to find such a sign, Charlie eventually settled by buying vinyl alphabet stickers and a weather resistant Car For Sale sign. He left these in the trunk of his car for several days because he himself had always been offended by signs such as the one he was contemplating creating. Signs that said things like “Please flush the toilet.”, “Keep off Grass”, or “No Solicitors”. Signs that supposed that the reader was a Neanderthal, or inconsiderate, or weak willed enough to be swayed from robbing a house simply because a “beware of dog” sign was propped in a window.
It offended him that anyone should think that he needed to be told these things, despite the fact that they weren’t meant for him specifically. It offended him that he should be assaulted by blaring red letters because other people were animals, anarchists, or vacuum salesmen. It offended him that other people were animals, anarchist, and vacuum salesmen, and that these signs reminded him of it. Most of all, it offended him that the messages were so cold, so impersonal. If someone were to say to him:
“Excuse me. Hi. I’m Ted. I really work hard to keep my grass healthy. It’s surprising, I know, but grass is really very delicate, so if you could use the pathways that would be wonderful. It will keep the grass alive. Thanks! I appreciate it.”
Well then, that might be less offensive. If, however, someone said:
“Yeah, go ahead it’s right through that door way. Make sure you flush the toilet and wash your hands when you're through.”, it would be condescending. And that, Charlie thought, was at the heart of what aroused his disdain for signs. They often said things that people would never say themselves. They were cowardly, rude, and driven by presumptions of vulgarity.
And yet, he suddenly found himself in a position in which he had a need for a sign. His new neighbors were blocking his driveway. Now, to be accurate, it was Charlie that was new to the neighborhood, having just purchased his first home. It had been a short sale and the previous owner lived in the house right up to the point at which Charlie was handed the keys. Thus the house had not stood long empty before Charlie began the gratifying labor of fixing up his new home. Popping in and out to paint and make repairs, he noticed that at least every other time he pulled up to the house, the driveway was blocked by one car or another.
If he had known which cars belonged to which houses, he would have simply knocked on a door, introduced himself with a smile and asked that his driveway be left open to him. Unfortunately this was not the case and Charlie was not yet ready to walk up and down the street introducing himself to every neighbor. And after five or six frustrating hikes from the car to the house with paint cans and tools, Charlie found himself sitting on the living room floor fingering sheets of vinyl stickers imprinted with bold block letters.
It began simply enough. PLEASE DON’T BLOCK THE DRIVEWAY. Despite his best effort, the letters had not been applied perfectly straight. Soon Charlie found himself adding the word “THANKS” at the bottom to fill what he perceived as an awkward blankness. Before he pressed on the “S” he realized that to keep things more perfectly centered he had better leave off the “S” and apply “Y” “O” and “U” instead. Besides, some extra stickers had peeled of the backing and it would be good to use them up, so he contrived to add the words “FOR UNDERSTANDING”.
After this, of course, there needed to be something further to balance things out visually, and then more stickers came up off the backing and he thought of more words to make with those. Eventually he needed more sign and more letters to complete the half formed words and ideas already in place. Naturally, the additional signs needed to be centered properly upon the garage door, so more signs had to be created to fill that space properly, eventually forming one enormous sign which swallowed up the entirety of the garage door, the vinyl letters tilting and slanting awkwardly like letters cut from magazines and pasted into a ransom note.
THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING THAT THIS HOUSE IS NOT EMPTY.
ALTHOUGH I HAVE NOT YET MOVED IN, I AM MAKING MANY IMPROVEMENTS AND NEED ACCESS TO MY GARAGE. I AM SURE THAT WHEN THE PREVIOUS OWNER VACATED THE PREMISES YOU CAME TO BE UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT THIS HOUSE WOULD STAND ABANDONED FOR QUITE SOME TIME.
AFTER ALL, IN THIS ECONOMY THAT IS QUITE OFTEN THE SITUATION.
SOME NEIGHBORHOODS ARE RIDDLED WITH EMPTY HOMES LEAVING THEM LIKE DESOLATE BLOCKS OF SWISS CHEESE, ADOLESCENTS AND VAGABONDS SWARMING THESE GAPING HOLES IN THE COMMUNITY LIKE STARVING MICE.
I AM PLEASED THAT OUR NEIGHBORHOOD WILL NOT SUCCUMB TO THE DIFFICULTIES OF THESE TIMES. THROUGH MUTUAL REPECT AND COURTESY I KNOW WE WILL LIVE PEACEFULLY TOGETHER, EACH WITH FULL ACCESS TO THEIR DRIVEWAYS. THE LAWNS WILL THRIVE AS WE ATTENTIVELY KEEP TO DESIGNATED WALKWAYS. OUR DOGS WILL REST SERENELY, UNDISTURBED UPON OUR PRIVATE PROPERTIES UPON WHICH THERE SHALL BE NO TRESPASSES.
WITH THE PROPER APPLICATION OF AWARENESS AND RESTRAINT WE WILL CO-EXIST PEACEFULLY. OUR HOMES SHALL BE PAINTED INDISTINCT NEUTRAL TONES SO THAT THE ENTIRE STREET WILL BE AWASH IN HUES OF SEPIA AND POWDER BLUE.
GONE ARE THE DAYS OF CLOTHESLINES HUNG IN THE FRONT YARD AND MOTHER IN HER APRON. MOTHER SHALL DRIVE TO WORK IN HER HYBRID CAR DROPPING THE KIDS AT SCHOOL ON HER WAY OUT.
DUE TO THIS I UNDERSTAND THAT NO ONE WILL BE BAKING COOKIES TO WELCOME ME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
NAY, THE DEFINITION OF A GOOD NEIGHBOR HAS CHANGED FROM THOSE THEY STILL PROPAGATE ON TV SITCOMS.
WE SHALL KEEP TO OUR OWN RESPECTIVE DOMICILES AND REFRAIN FROM SPEAKING TO ONE ANOTHER.
A CURT NOD OR WAVE ON THE WAY FROM THE FRONT DOOR TO THE CAR IS ALL THAT SHALL BE NECESSARY.
FOR ALL WE WILL KNOW, IN ONE HOUSE MIGHT LIVE A SERIAL KILLER,
IN THE NEXT A FAMILY OF MORMONS WITH THREE WIVES DISGUISED AS ELDER DAUGHTERS,
IN THE NEXT A GAY COUPLE SNOGGING ON THEIR RETRO SOFA, TOES LOST IN THE SOFTNESS OF NEW SHAG CARPET,
IN ANOTHER A CHINESE FAMILY IS SECRETLY TUNNELING BENEATH THE ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD TO MAKE MORE ROOM FOR THEIR KNOCK OFF DESIGNER BRAND PURSE FACTORY,
WHILE IN YET ANOTHER A SINGLE MAN WONDERS WHAT HAS BECOME OF HIS SELF RESPECT AND IDEALS. WITH BLOCK LETTERS HE WILL BE BEGGING STRANGERS TO ADHERE TO THE CONVENTIONS OF CIVILIZED SOCIETY, OR IF THAT IS TOO VAGUE, THEN WITH CITY ORDINANCES THAT ALLOW THAT HE MAY HAVE ANY CAR BLOCKING HIS DRIVEWAY TOWED.
HE WILL REFRAIN FROM ASKING THEM TO FLUSH THEIR TOILETS AND WASH THEIR HANDS BEFORE EATING.
WHAT THEY DO IN THEIR OWN HOMES IS THEIR OWN BUSINESS, UNLESS SOMETHING HE HEARS THROUGH THE WALLS OR GLIMPSES THROUGH A WINDOW GIVES HIM CAUSE TO CALL CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES OR THE HUMANE SOCIETY OR THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY.
IT IS IN THIS SPIRIT OF RESPECTING PERSONAL SPACE THAT I HUMBLY ASK YOU TO LEAVE MY DRIVEWAY FREE OF OBSTRUCTIONS.
When it had been completed Charlie stood in the driveway admiring his work. He felt a strange mix of dread and elation. The old lady across the street was peering out from behind her curtains. The sun was shining and sparkling off the bright emerald green fibers of the synthetic lawn in front of another neighbor's house. Charlie glanced at his own little patch of lawn, a yellow melee of crab grass and wild oats. Then he walked around the corner to where his truck was parked and drove to the home improvement store in search of fertilizer and weed killer.