Tag Archives: crime

No parking in Oregon, and other absurdities

New Yorker that I am, I don’t often think about compass directions. I go uptown or downtown, and to the East or West Side. So this sign caught my attention as I walked around Seattle last week:









My first impulse was to check the position of the sun and try to determine where, exactly, south was. I located the sun easily enough, but I’m staying in a house with a two-month-old. Was it morning or afternoon? I didn’t know. Nor did landmarks help, because my knowledge of Seattle geography is hazy at best. Next I looked at parking patterns. The sign was close to a corner;  only a micro-car could squeeze into the bit of curb in front of the sign. That direction was probably not south. Behind the sign were maybe fifty parked cars.  Law-abiding Seattlites are unlikely to flout parking rules in such large numbers, I reasoned — no south there, either. At last I figured out the true meaning. Listen up, Oregonians! Pay attention, Californians! You need to head north for parking. As I pondered the meaning of the sign, by the way, I decided it was fortunate I wasn’t driving a car at the time. I might have hit the tree while decoding.

And while I’m on the topic of absurdities — and I am — here’s a ticket stub from a play I saw recently:



I don’t mind paying for the ticket, and I’m semi-okay with the service charge. But paying a fee for a fee is going too far, in the same category as a charge for “shipping and handling” when I’m standing at a box office, holding my hand out for the ticket, which the cashier places on my palm. Why is that “shipping and handling”? At Madison Square Garden, it is.

One more:

Isn’t the very definition of “crime” something that is “punishable by law”? What else would it be, a crime rewarded by free ice cream cones?

It’s July 4th, America’s day to celebrate our independence — which apparently includes the right to hang silly signs and impose ridiculous fee fees. Enjoy your barbecue and your right to express yourself, absurdly or not.

Illegal Words

The scene: I’m chopping turnips and listening to my local public radio station. The action: The announcer promises an extended report on “illegal spying” after the break. The reaction: I spend the next ten minutes wondering if “legal spying” exists. The consequences: I  lose a thin slice of fingertip to inattention and have to rinse blood off the turnips. Denouement: I decide that “illegal spying” falls into the same category as “victorious traitor.” If you win, you control the language. That’s why no “traitor” ever gains power. A “traitor” who succeeds is a “rebel” or a “patriot” (see “American Revolution”).  So  James Bond isn’t engaging in “illegal spying” in the eyes of the British government. The nation spied upon, however, holds a different opinion. If James Bond gets caught, he goes to prison. Of course, James Bond never does get caught, not permanently anyway. Why ruin a franchise that reaps billions?

But I digress. This post isn’t about potboiler-blockbusters. It’s about legality and the words that describe it. Take a look at this sign:

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These words appear at a construction site, on the side of a shed that protects pedestrians from any falling debris. The ceiling of this shed is maybe twelve or fifteen feet high, level with the apartment windows on the second floor of the building. (How nice for the occupants! They can chat with construction workers over morning coffee.) Back to language: “burglary” is a legal term for breaking and entering a building in order to commit a crime. Okay, that word makes sense, because the shed could facilitate entry into those second-floor apartments. But “hold up”? This is an informal term for “mugging” or any robbery committed with a weapon.  Technically, the same bad guys sneaking through a window could “hold-up” the occupants, but this action is already covered under “burglary.” So why use both terms?

I didn’t lose a fingertip to this one, but I did speculate all the way home. Did the sign-maker envision armed robbers atop the scaffolding, taking wallets and jewelry from residents strolling on top of the shed? For a block or two I decided that the protection was for pedestrians under the shed – a sort of “walk through here and you’ll be safe” notice. Then I realized that “pedestrians” aren’t “premises.” So that theory bit the dust. At the end of the walk, I decided that another definition of “hold-up” worked best: “delay.” This company promises that the building will be “electronically protected” against missing sheetrock, striking workers, and four-hour lunch breaks. Now that is something worth paying for.