The Book of Signs
1And “Dirk” went to the top of a nameless hill and said to no one in particular: “Behold these signs, given to me. Read them in remembrance of me.”
2The Prairie Dog Reserve informational plaque/sign near Devil’s Tower said: “Prairie dogs enter the world surrounded by fangs.… from the air sudden talons.”
3At one time, 25 billion prairie dogs inhabited the vast middle of the United States; now their numbers have diminished to the point that they have been designated “endangered.” The same powers responsible for determining that the prairie dog is endangered have decided to remedy this by granting the species their protection. The same powers granting their protection are largely responsible for the prairie dog’s problems.
4Beware your enemy’s remedies.
5But “Dirk,” you ask, how shall I know my enemy?
6Search your unhappiness.
7And the billboard advertised the “Humbird Walk-in Cheese Room.”
8And, lo, “Dirk” bypassed the Humbird exit, all the while imagining a humidor for cheese, rows and rows of tubes of string cheese, laid out, eager for lips and flame.
9And “Dirk” saw llamas in Minnesota.
10And signs indicating that the Llama Owners of S.E. Minnesota were responsible for two miles of highway in that state’s “Adopt-a-Highway” litter clean-up program. Owners. Not “ranchers,” or “breeders”—owners.
11This struck “Dirk” as strange.
12 Were there, then, competing Llama Owner associations in S.W. Minnesota? in N.W. Minnesota? in N.E. Minnesota? in Central Minnesota? “Dirk” imagined ongoing gang warfare between the rival Llama Owners, each group maneuvering their herds of llamas onto great open fields where the llamas would then proceed to spit upon their enemies. The oceans of phlegm and mucous. The cries of the wounded. The expectorant epics recited by wandering, spit-blinded bards lauding the speed, trajectory, and pungency of the saliva of legendary llamas. The overwhelming smell.
13“Dirk” composed a short poem while driving, or rather remembered a previously composed short poem that had lacked an effective title. “Dirk” now provided the missing title.
14“Portion of an Adjectival Definition Arranged Mimetically”
seven-15“Good Food” the cafe reader board declares… isn’t that, or rather, shouldn’t that be a given? Since a restaurant would never advertise that it served “Mediocre Food,” there seems to be a slight case of special pleading inherent in reassurances that an eating establishment serves food that is good to eat: “It’s good food… really! Ya gotta believe me!! Really, really good!”
16And “Dirk” encountered again a sign he had seen before: the name of a hair parlor: “Curl Up and Dye.”
17And “Dirk” wondered: Aside from the obvious “cleverness,” is there anything to recommend this as a name for a business that is presumably trying to attract customers by appealing to their vanity, their desire to remain young forever? Does such a name invite confidence in the skill of the personnel wielding sharp instruments and chemical poisons? Is that enough to overcome our innate revulsion with our own mortality?
19Then scratched his groin absentmindedly as if watching a wasp circle a blade of grass.
20And “Dirk” watched a movie entitled fast, cheap, and out of control.
21And the title resonated with “Dirk” and he wrote it down.
22And during his travels “Dirk” passed by many motels and one motel reader board proclaimed: “Recommended by Owner.”
23And “Dirk” was about to belittle this sign, assigning it a position in his taxonomy next to “Good Food,” yes, “Dirk” was about to employ heavy sarcasm while conceding that there was an element of genuine tongue-in-cheek wit, but then the inescapable irony took the form of an anvil and landed on his unshod toes: What could possibly be more permeated with the “Recommended by Owner” ethic than this hypertext for The Unknown, where every page and every link eventually circles around to the implicit and otherwise recommendation that you support those three crazy lads challenging the unknown.
25“His mark is worse than his might,” he said with exaggerated mystery.
26And “Dirk” couldn’t decide if poetry was 1) always personal, 2) inevitably personal, or, 3) both or neither.
27And “Dirk” passed over “Lmuma Creek” on the way to Yakima and a disc golf course which would disappoint him greatly and cause a great gnashing of teeth, as well as assorted imagined blows about the head and shoulders of those responsible. Everyone responsible. Every last one. And then one more.
28As a warning.
30The horoscope for Capricorn, 20 July 1998, includes the following: “Invention relates to your recipe.”
31Colonize the world with koans. Koanize the world with colons.
32Celestial economics observes the following axiom: We never earn anything, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve everything we get.
33Or that we don’t deserve more than we earn, anyway.
34So much surplus and still the insistence on the moral obligation to work. Why the conspiracy against leisure?
35From whom all blessings flow.
36And while in Oregon, “Dirk” pondered the mystery that the state forbids motorists to dispense gasoline. Every Oregon gas station is a full-service, and nothing but full-service, enterprise.
37Every time the station attendants cheerfully approached his car, “Dirk” inwardly recoiled, as if he had landed in the middle of a bad Twilight Zone episode about “the Gas Station That Time Forgot.”
38And what explains the continued need for station attendants in Oregon? An incredibly powerful gas station attendant union? An unusually clumsy and / or careless general populace? Creeping Socialism?
40On the way to Crater Lake, “Dirk” passes a financial institution that goes by the name, “Valley of the Rogue Bank.”
41Quibbles about redundancy aside, at least they have the guts to admit it.
42the43Also, near Oregon, but before Crater Lake, “Dirk” watches a water-skier glide across a desert-smooth lake, an immense nuclear plant cooling tower looming behind him. An apocalyptic pastoral.
44Everything we forget.
45And “Dirk” added lines of poetry from his friends to the Book of Signs:
and though the years of crossing46In San Francisco, “Dirk” strolls across the Golden Gate Bridge with the author of the above lines. Along the way are several emergency call boxes adorned with signs stating:
48Only in San Francisco, “Dirk’s” friend comments.
49Yes, “Dirk” thought, and how sad that “only” is an invitation for mockery.
50“Dirk” encounters the phrase “methodical visionary” and wants to apply it to himself but realizes that the honor should be William’s instead.
51And the motto/slogan/name for the 107th Merced County Fair in 1998 was: “Poultry in Motion.”
52As the entire interstate highway system had apparently deteriorated all at once, not unlike Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “Wonderful One-Hoss Shay,” “Dirk” was delayed by innumerable construction projects. Near one, the sign: OPEN TRENCH.
53Behold, says Lao-Tse, the Tao is an unopened trench.
54How deep is an unopened trench? asks the Zen Master.
55My! How trenchant you are with a penchant for non sequitur.
56The better to appropriate your corporeal being, my dear.
57Colorado. Interstate 70. Some time in July. 1998.