Jul 15 2015

John wouldn’t have been able to tell you the moment in which everything changed. His job had always been boring. Perhaps it had been a gradual change, or maybe it a change that had happened all at once but the moment of change escaped his attention. Previously all of the street signs that came out of the paint machine seemed the same to him, but he found himself discriminating between them. He had come to understand that there were differences between the signs that were produced by the machine, and once he had realised that there were differences, his perception of the differences became refined through continual observation. On some of the signs, the letters of STOP seemed sharpener, the red colour brighter, the aluminium smoother, the whole effect more luminous. It had been usual for him to occupy his time with some other matter while the machines ran, but he found himself watching the process as though it were not repetitive. But of course it was different every time!

During routine maintenance, he found himself removing particular parts that he thought might be somehow proven unnecessary to machine operation, in order to effect aesthetic changes in the printing of the signs. He was aware of what the parts were, and understood their essential purposes, but part of him hoped that the signs might be more beautiful without those parts. This was highly irrational, he realised; and when he attempted to run the printer he observed that the signs that were produced were clearly not more beautiful than previous signs had been, and indeed, those parts were necessary to the printing of beautiful signs. However, the observation that not all signs were created equally provided him with reason to believe that there must be some way of controlling the beauty of the signs that were produced.

Although he would never have taken his emotions out physically on the machine, it did occour to him that he might do so, and with this compulsion came an insight: that deliberately nudging the machine might cause greater or lesser effects on the print output. He also saw that he had too hastily dismissed his ideas about removing parts, and that the parts might remain within the machine but be adjusted in minor ways. Clearly, this was a matter of fine degree.

John’s work had a special advantage for him in attempting to manipulate the printer, which was that it was not necessary for him to pay for any materials, and that any signs that he made that were not the sign he was attempting to make would still be useful for installation on roads. In order to amuse himself, he began a tally of signs that were not the sign he wanted, but beneath the humor his approach was of unshakable dedication. He noticed that not only single nudges, but accumulated nudges, could determine the printing outcome, and that fluctuations in the outcome could also be due to the heat and humidity of the environment. Although he was often alone in his work, it was necessary for him to time his activities with precision in order to optimise the print machine.

Anyone who had seen him with the machine, caressing it and bumping his body against it, could have been forgiven for believing that he was making a sort of love to it; but once it produced the outcome that he wanted, all thought of the machine left his head. Surrounding the sign he had produced shone with a nimbus that possessed a power to wipe other awarenesses clean and to hold all presences rapt to itself. It was just as well that all the knowledge that would be necessary to reproduce the sign had left his head, because there never should be another sign; it was too glorious not to distract from its intended practical purpose, and such a sign placed beside a road could potentially cause a great deal of harm. It had taken too much energy from him, it had extracted too much focus – he might never focus in the same way again. At that time, John did not even know what to do with what he had created; he left it on his desk, locked up the offices, and went home for the evening.

When he returned in the morning, the sign was missing. He became horrified as he first chose to believe that he must have left it somewhere else, and then hunted frantically around where he had left it, and throughout the office. When his coworker informed him that it had been added to a shipment, the decision to quit his job came easily. It could be anywhere by now; it could have been distributed anywhere throughout the country. He did not know whether he could find it, but he knew that there was no alternative remaining to him than to look for it. He had lost things before, that were precious things that could not be replaced; but this thing was different. It was not only the work of his life, it was more than that. He could not allow it to be beside a roadside forever, until it was destroyed and “replaced”.

And he did find it, years later, when he had been reduced to a skeleton of the person he had once been. If you had seen him, you would have thought him to be destroyed, a ruined man; but he was not a ruined man, he was just a man with a single mind, and when he set his eyes on his STOP sign he knew that he would rebuild his life, that he could come back from this, and could return stronger.

He found his sign in an unusual suburban intersection, while he walked through the night. The intersection was unusual for its convergence of several different roadways, and for the presence of other signs surrounding it and apparently reflecting themselves back upon it from all those other different ways. But there was just one way for John, as he took himself closer to that sign, and as he removed it from its post with he wrench that was his single remaining material possession. The radiance of the sign had been undiminished by its perforation and attachment to street post; it was as lovely as it had ever been.

Approaching from another direction came an enormous semitrailer. In the dark, visibility was poor, and the driver could not see John, dressed in his shabby greyish rags, who was holding the bright surface of the sign facing himself and away from the driver. And John, absorped in the nature of his communion with his creation, had reached a state of ecstasy from which the world surrounding him could achieve very little penetration. He held it out from him, at the length of his arms, and looked into it, and then drew it closer to him, and clasped it to his body, within his embrace. And in that moment, as he held his sign, and as the vehicle was bearing down upon him, everything came to an irrevocable, irreversible, and abrupt

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