A thousand signs

Outside the place where I lived many years ago in the bustling city was a one-way, dimly-lit side street, branching from the busy road and into the quiet neighborhood. The parking on the street was unpermitted and unassigned, but when I’d walk my dog at night, I’d see the same cars nestling in their usual spot. One of the cars was a small pickup truck with a large caged wagon attached for collecting metals and scraps.

The neighborhood was new and old. Of the old was really old; the red-brick building occupying the south side of the street must have been at least 75 years old. On the north side of the street was an abandoned lot with junked cars. One day, with no warning or announcement, a sign spontaneously appeared on both sides of the street. Henceforth, the sign announced, this was to be permitted parking. You must acquire a permit for your vehicle, and display the permit at all times, lest you risk citation or tow.

I had seen the guy to whom the pick up truck belonged. He was in his 60s, but he was active and fit; almost buff. If we caught eyes while walking my dog, he would say hello, and I’d smile politely and say hey. He used to have a dog, he told me, until he had to give her up because bodily pain and back problems overtook his ability to care for her properly.

I’m no permitting expert, but I was somewhat certain that the city would give him a hard time for his business-sized pick up truck. I wondered where on earth he would park the thing if he couldn’t acquire a permit.

But he had found a different solution to the problem.

As I was walking my dog the next day on the north side of the street, I looked into the abandoned car lot and noticed something peculiar: plopped askew on the ground was a sign, similar to the one I saw the day before. “Permit Parking” it announced. I looked across the street by the big red building, and sure enough, no longer was there the sign there just yesterday. Someone had dug it up and thrown it across the street.

Ha. So now what? If there is no sign to convey that parking requires a permit, how enforceable can it really be? Yet I thought surely whoever dug up the sign was waging a losing battle. There’s no way you can turn permitted parking into a free for all by just digging up the sign and tossing it out. Right?

Nothing really changed over the next few days. Everyone assumed their usual opportunistic spot. Probably most inhabitants hadn’t noticed the sign in the first place to notice it was now gone. But then, just like it had before, the intruding pole miraculously reappeared. Nope—the sign said—this is definitely permit parking.

The very next day the sign was missing again. Not in the abandoned car lot this time. It had probably been taken to some abandoned pier, blindfolded when it was shot in the back and dumped in the ocean. The same cars, including the now increasingly smug pick up truck, continued to park, unpermitted. I thought surely this couldn’t go on much longer. Eventually, the rules must be followed. This war cannot be won.

A few days later the sign was reinstated, this time with bolts to the ground. And the very next day—nay, that same night—the sign had once again vanished without a trace.

This must have happened a few more times, until one side finally gave in and accepted defeat.

This whole saga was years ago. I drove by some months ago to the same street, and there it was, magnificent as ever: the raggedy old pick up truck with its overflowing haul of junk appliances. And, no sign. You, me, anyone could park there.

I can never really say for certain whether the old man was the sign killer. I just figured he had the most to lose by its presence. But I respected his will for survival. And for saying fuck you, I live here, and I’ve lived here far before this sign and its under-qualified originators ever wished for its existence.

So it seems, if ever a permit is required of you to perform an unalienable action, a viable course of action is to simply say fuck you. The collective will is immeasurably, unstoppably more powerful than the will of those maliciously designing and edging their way past your most uninfringeable boundaries. A thousand signs have been placed before you.

I know what the old man would do.

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