You have to see ‘Sign Ordinance’ by E. Wise
Some pieces are must-reads. Others just need to be placed where guests can see them. But everyone who has a sign or is planning one should reserve an evening and a glass of wine for ‘Sign Ordinance’ by E. Wise.
It’s a controversial piece about a county that decides to wage a preemptive war on signs. It has an Orwellian grasp of language and its intricacies.
Wise defines a sign as ‘any device, fixture, placard, or structure that uses any color, form, graphic, illumination, symbol, or text to advertise, announce the purposes of or identify the purpose of a person or entity, or to communicate information of any kind to the public which is designed to be legible at or beyond the property line of the lot on which the sign is located by an individual who meets the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ visual acuity criteria to be eligible for a driver’s license.’
The broad definition immediately grabs the reader’s attention. Anyone who opens the pages of the book soon realizes that they or someone they know has a sign in their life. Everywhere there are signs.
As the plot builds, the local government makes an effort to inventory all of the county’s existing signs through a free permit period. Some see this as a civil rights violation akin to firearms registration; others view it as a generous opportunity to ease into compliance with the new law.
When the Harrison County Commissioners adopt the ordinance on the recommendation of the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission, the definitions of various signs are specified.
They describe animated signs, flashing signs, freestanding signs, illuminated signs, incidental signs, nonconforming signs, permanent signs, pennants, projecting signs, public information signs, residential signs, roof-mounted signs, temporary signs, wall signs and window signs.
Among signs exempt by the ordinance’s definition and requirements are signs spelled out with living human bodies and their appendages, like the ‘YMCA’ dance; signs written by airplanes with smoke; signs of the Zodiac (What’s yours?); signs of the Apocalypse; signs from God; signs of the times; sign language; Seinfeld: complete seasons on DVD; ‘Seinlanguage,’ the book by Seinfeld; M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Signs’; sines as trigonometric functions; signs of aggregation (braces, brackets, parentheses or vinculums used to indicate that two or more terms are to be treated as one quantity); signs that county planners might need more to do; sinusitis (an inflammation of the sinus); and Sinologue, which concerns Sinology but strangely only results in discussions of the Chinese. Did I mention Scientology?
Other signs exempted include traffic signs on private property that give good traffic advice. Like ‘Stop!’ And signs erected by government bodies. It’s amazing what can be done with a note card and a piece of Scotch tape.
Signs prohibited by the ordinance include: signs in a public right-of-way; portable signs without a temporary sign permit; signs which violate county or state highway standards; signs obstructing ingress or egress of a required exit, or which prevent light or ventilation as required in other codes and ordinances to be read on other evenings with other glasses of wine; signs that could break and hurt people; signs that say ‘go’ when people should stop or give otherwise bad advice to traffic; signs attached to things that belong to the town, county or a utility … and trees; signs that could cause epileptic seizures; permanent signs on property otherwise untouched by man (like the flag on the Moon); signs that change wording prompting drivers to read about local events, the time and weather while driving past.
The only abstractions in ‘Sign Ordinance’ are found in the purpose of the ordinance itself, which is to encourage the use of signs as an effective means of communication, maintain and enhance the aesthetic environment, improve safety, minimize adverse effects, and be fair.