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Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)

Hove, Arthur
Sending and receiving: on finding one's way,   pp. 30-31

Page 31

mandu. As a result, the names of
Baedeker, Michelin, Fodor, Tem-
ple Fielding, Egon Ronay, AAA,
and -even Kilroy have become a
part of the regular travel lexicon.
The guidebook, therefore, gets
tossed into the suitcase along with
such other essentials as passport,
toothbrush, and traveler's checks.
  Even with all the maps, the
guide books, and the scientifically
engineered superhighways, it is
still a sure bet that a significant
percentage of drivers sailing along
the freeway in an unfamiliar city
will miss their turn. The natives
all know where they are going.
They weave in and out of the
traffic like frolicking dolphins.
The stranger, in the meantime, has
to keep an eye on the road and
glance at the side and rear view
mirrors while anxiously searching
for the turnoff sign. If he is lucky,
the stranger will know in advance
what the sign says and be in the
correct lane when he has to make
his move. Missing a turn usually
means spending a few extra mo-
ments in a kind of highway purga-
tory. It means an unplanned and
often unwanted s c e n i c tour. It
means traveling miles down the
road before you can double back.
And then there is a whole new set
of signs to deal with on the way
  Some of the signs are getting
simpler. In a few years the famil-
iar "No Parking" legend will be
gone from the landscape, this
particular remonstrance replaced
by a letter P with a red slash
through it. I'm sure you get the
message and will soon grow to
recognize that an arrow doubled
over in pain with a similar red
slash through it means "No U
Turn." These new ideograms
which are replacing our custom-
ary road signs have long been
familiar to European drivers
(even though the signs don't help
them drive any better). The ra-
tionale behind the signs is that
they are instantaneously recog-
nizable. The message they project
travels a split-second faster from
the eye to the brain which then
signals your muscles how to react
to a particular situation on the
road. This ideogram is particu-
larly effective because it requires
no translation. It means the same
thing in Spanish, Croatian, Swed-
ish, and Urdu.
  Similar signs have been a fa-
miliar part of the landscape of
Western Civilization since the Mid-
dle Ages. Few people could read
in earlier centuries, but most could
recognize that the picture of a pair
of scissors meant a tailor's shop,
or that a scale indicated there was
a moneychanger nearby. Modern
consumers are familiar with the
barber pole, the mortar and pestle
of the pharmacist, and the three
balls hanging over the door of the
pawnshop. Perhaps the modern
personification of the tradesman's
sign can be found in the descrip-
tion of the optometrist's logo that
appears in The Great Gatsby:
  . . . above the gray land and
  the spasms of bleak dust
  which drift endlessly over it,
  you perceive, after a moment,
  the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckle-
  berg. The eyes of Doctor T. J.
  Eckleberg are blue and gi-
  gantic-their retinas a r e one
  yard high. They look out of
  no face, but, instead from a
  pair of enormous yellow
  spectacles which pass over a
  non-existent nose.
  Business and industry, as a nat-
ural evolution from medieval com-
mercial practices, have carefully
cultivated a "corporate image"
through the use of a readily identi-
fiable logotype-a commonly iden-
tifiable sign which appears on
products, p a c k a g e s, stationery,
and product advertising.
   Finding one's way is not always
a case of using signs to pick your
way through a landscape. Direc-
tions are often given to accom-
plish other goals. There is the
cliche example of the beleaguered
father confronted with a set of sub-
literate instructions and a boxful
of parts to a swing set. Invariably,
as the standing joke goes, father
will not be up to the challenge. The
density of the prose in the instruc-
tions defeats him-unless he hap-
pens to be a mechanical engineer
who doesn't need the instructions
in the first place, or a bureaucrat
who is used to dealing with prose
that has a high cholesterol content.
Confronted with the instructions,
father can hardly identify Flange
B, much less ascertain where it is
supposed to fit together with the
mass of parts that lie before him
like the bones of a strange animal.
  But it is not just children's de-
vices that can stymie the potential
do-it-yourselfer. More and more
things come disassembled these
days. It's supposed to be cheaper
that way. Everything from wheel-
barrows to dining room hutches
comes in pieces that are to be put
together in a logical sequence so
that when complete they will look
like the item pictured on the front
of the box, or like what you saw
on the showroom floor in the
  Then there is the case of the TV
commercials wherein we see the
industrious ingredients of patent
medicines racing along the high-
ways and byways of your body.
The more effective the pills, we are
told, the faster their relief-giving
ingredients will course to the
troubled parts of your anatomy.
The ingredients know their way.
You can watch them on the tele-
vision screen as they dash to put
out the fire of a fever, relieve the
throbbing pain of a sinus head-
ache, or neutralize the discomforts
th at accompany overindulgence
of food and drink.
  If you are a literalist, it will be
difficult to ever again swallow an
aspirin or a cold capsule without
subsequently experiencing a tin-
gling sensation as those animated
little granules move along your
veins and arteries on the way to
realize their destiny. If this makes
you squeamish, then you may
have some trouble following an-
other television exhortation and
let your fingers do the walking
through the Yellow Pages.
  And then there is the response
that a Ms. Gloria Monday once
received from a surveyor whose
equipment had broken down as
he was making measurements for
a roadway that would take people
to a previously inaccessible area.
  When asked why he had sus-
pended work, the reply was ob-
vious and descriptive of a univer-
sal reality.
  "Sick transit Gloria Monday."

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