You never can tell how people will react to a little bit of attention.
A short while ago, I decided to create a project for The Memoir Detective using signs I found as I walked around the neighborhood or visited other parts of town. The important thing about this project is that the signs are found signs, that is, I don’t construct them, I simply come upon them as they go about their business of informing, directing, and guiding people.
I figure that these signs can be a way into discovering more about ourselves and our motives for doing what we do. They can act as an imagistic form of shorthand for how we live, and maybe they can point us towards something meaningful and worthwhile beyond their original use. They can help us discover our truth. Everything has the potential for recycling into something even more useful at The Memoir Detective.
A Little Bit of Attention – 1
So last week, I was out and about taking photographs of things that took my fancy, when I came across a sign I’d been chasing: Caution, it said, If You Can’t See My Mirrors I Can’t See You. Ironic when you consider what happened. It was on the back of a truck parked near a service station. I snapped off a picture and continued walking as I stashed the camera.
Then I heard a voice from way up in the truck’s cabin. I hadn’t seen his mirrors, but as it happened, he’d seen me after all.
“Is everything all right?” the voice called over the engine’s noise.
I was the only person within cooee, so I called back, “Yes.” A busy truck driver wanting to make conversation. Who’d had thought?
“I’m not parked in a bus stop, am I?” He smiled down at me, but he wasn’t happy. He looked a bit afraid.
Bus stop? Afraid? Of moi, a happy snapping stroller? Perish the thought?
“No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
“Only, you took a photo. I thought I must be doing something wrong.”
Something wrong. I quickly explained that I was doing an art project taking pictures of signs – it seemed the easiest way to tell the story of Signs of Life. Otherwise, we could have been there until the truckie’s and my No-Doze wore off.
“I really like your sign,” I concluded, pointing towards the back of his truck, smiling a cheesy, cheesy smile, glad to be fit enough to walk away fairly briskly should the driver decide to let fly at me for upsetting his tea break.
But he didn’t His next smile was relief and brief. We both took off, him for lunches unknown, me to make my second mistake of the day.
A Little Bit of Attention – 2
Further along on my route, a truck was parked outside the library: one of my favourite places, a smorgasbord of free books, as many as you can read as far as the eye can ABC.
The truck featured a great sign beneath its front window – Dual Control Vehicle – and I wanted that sign in my Cybershot. But the letters were a bit faded and I knew they wouldn’t come out very well, so I continued to the back and there it was again, a little the worse for wear but clearer, white against black. I did the deed, and continued walking. Until I heard a voice from behind asking, “Is everything all right?” Damn those rear view mirrors.
“Yes,” I said, “as far as I know.” But what did I know? Nada.
“I just stopped for morning tea,” he said.
Did I care? I was looking forward to my morning tea if I ever got home and away from these talkative truck drivers.
“There’s nowhere else to go unless I drive back to the depot – it’s an hour and a half there and back.” He was imploring. He was very big and he wore a fluorescent yellow safety vest. He looked like a gigantic canary with peculiarly superior driving skills. He stared at my camera. He looked afraid.
The penny dropped. Or rather, the shutter opened.
“Oh,” I said, “I’m doing an art project. I took a shot of your sign – dual control vehicle? It’s an art project.” Did I mention that?
I blathered an apology for interrupting his morning tea and he blathered about residents who phoned the council to complain about trucks parked in their streets. Residents who thought that any idling truck must be shamefully and not gainfully idling. Residents who thought that any council worker munching lunch in their vehicles’ cabin or standing with their thermos in the shade of a tree must surely be bludging. Residents who couldn’t comprehend the notion that council workers, too, were entitled to breaks. Residents who sent photos of idling trucks to the council administration. Yikes.
I apologised again, and again; I told him I had no interest whatsoever in calling the council about anything (other than burst sewerage pipes – now that’s something to get exercised about) or of sending snapshots of his truck to them. I wished him well and hoped I hadn’t given him indigestion. I walked fairly briskly up the hill towards home, and the sanity of my idle cat and an unobserved and unremarked upon morning tea.
A Little Bit of Paranoia
Two paranoid truckies in one day? Coincidence? I think not. I think something not very nice is afoot, and it’s moving more than fairly briskly.
Here are some lessons I learned on The Day of the Two Truckies and the Not So Happy Snaps:
- Isn’t life too short to whinge and bitch about strangers we don’t know, doing jobs for reasons best known to themselves and which we have no clue about, and which are clearly, furthermore (and take a breath), none of our business anyway? Isn’t life just far too short for that nonsense? Let’s focus our energy elsewhere, somewhere where the sun is shining.
- Let’s stop moaning about strangers who stray onto the periphery of our lives, and instead do something worthwhile for ourselves. Save on bile, biterness, digital images of ugly trucks, and nagging phone calls. Save on frowns, malice, and revenge. Save on anxiety medications and botox for our wrinkled, angry foreheads. Save and smile, silently.
- If I want to take photos of appealing signs, I’ll let the boys know that I don’t care about their munchies, or their work orders, or their idling machinery BEFORE I snap.
Are you the paranoid truckie, or the happily ignorant snapper, or the dobber? Is this your memoir?
Worry less, get permission, stop with the kvetching.
Ask yourself: What Am I Shovelling?