I was thinking the other day about barriers … you know, those symbolic “things” that someone at some time just decided would cause an educated human being to stop and say to another educated human being, “wait, there is one of those universally-recognized barrier symbol thingies – we need to stop, re-group and consider an alternative to our originally-intended plan of action.”
The thought that an inanimate object placed a certain way could cause a Pavlovian response in a grown adult without the slightest bit of questionability hit me like a nerf dart from my sugar-crazed nephew.
Ask yourself… what kind of logic spawned the idea that a linen table napkin lying over the back of a banquet chair actually means, “You need to find another table buster?”
Who decided that an 18-inch 1×4 wooden plank wired to the awning in front of the bumper cars universally means “if you can’t reach it, you ain’t driving it … guess you will be eating at the little kids table again this Thanksgiving.”
And what’s the penalty when one of your yams falls out of the produce sack and crosses that plastic red stick on the grocers’ conveyer belt? Each of these “symbol things” are universal barriers that we as humans have accepted as lines we don’t cross … and for some reason, we don’t question it.
You have to ask yourself how symbols like the linen napkin on the chair originate. I imagine it sort of went something like this …
The Swansons, who arrived at the Ducks Unlimited banquet before their friends the Petersons, start to get anxious as they sense the tables are beginning to fill up. Mrs. Swanson turns to Mr. Swanson and says, “Bill, we have to save the Petersons a seat.” Bill, who is anxious to get to the bar and has his eye on that one wood duck print with the commemorative stamp, says, “Lois, what do you want me to do about it?” Lois, frustrated says, “Bill, stand up and block these two chairs with your leg like you did at last year’s Elk Foundation Gala.” Exasperated, Bill pushes back his chair right into Ted Johnson’s wife Susan, who spills her glass of blush wine down the front of her blouse that she got from her sister for her anniversary. Lois, who apologizes for Bill’s clumsiness, takes two linen napkins and attempts to blot the stain from Susan’s blouse before she huffs off mumbling that she is going to tell her husband. Lois places the two napkins on the adjacent chair back to dry out and no one attempt to sit there until the Petersons arrive 15 minutes late … thus a “symbol thingy” is born.
Twenty-five years later, I find myself in a crowded holiday corporate dinner elbowing my way through the throngs of people wearing bad sweaters looking for two vacant chairs. I spy a set and I say, “Excellent, let’s take these,” to which my wife replies, “We can’t do that … they are reserved, don’t you see the napkins?” I say, “Those napkins are just drying out, didn’t you see the lady just walk by here with blush wine on her blouse?”
I am convinced that there is no significance between the symbol and the intent of the barricade. Mrs. Swanson could just have easily used the table center as a symbol, but she couldn’t get the ceramic Labrador puppy with detachable retrieving dummy to balance on the back of the chair.
The origin of the “you’re too short to ride stick” is much less dramatic … frustrated at the length of the line, the Carney, who decided to wire the 1×4 wooden plank to the awning, just picked a spot that didn’t make him crane his neck or heft the 12-volt Black & Decker Quarter-Inch Drill Master any higher than necessary. His neck was a little stiff from a freak accident on the Tilt-A-Whirl and his shoulder was bothering him from working the cotton candy trailer the day before.
There is no mystery to the origin of the little red plastic strips on the check-out conveyor belt. They are really recycled handles from the grocery carts that were twisted off in frustration by those shoppers who waited until the last minute and still thought they could find a normal-sized Butterball at Thanksgiving.
My position on the “barrier symbol thingy” is that they should have some recognizable relevance to whatever they are trying to block somebody from doing.
I shudder to think that we react to barriers that are not well thought out or relevant. I would not be opposed to barriers if the people who thought them up just put a little more effort into them.
The linen napkin should be replaced by a picture of that guy who snores in church pasted onto a standard tongue depressor. You just prop up the picture and there will be no need to worry about anybody sitting by you. The little 1×4 plank in front of the carnival ride should be an outline of an Oompa Loompa with a red diagonal cross through it. If you’re gonna bar short people from big people carnival rides, be up front about it. The red grocery conveyor stick could just be a can of garbanzo beans or creamed corn which no one in their right mind would get anywhere close to. Spam could work, but I have a sneaky suspicion that a large subculture of Spam lovers exist who won’t be dissuaded in the least by this type of a “barrier thingy”.
Even so, I believe any attempt to abolish “barrier thingies” would be futile and, as a result, I have decided I will spend my energy on suggesting potential new “barrier thingees” in an effort to curtail things that I find off-putting. After a good deal of thought, I have one recommendation: I think we should consider an oversized helium-filled orange circus peanut tethered to a jack-o-lantern on your front porch as the universally recognized barrier symbol that means no candy will be provided to trick-or-treaters who are old enough to drive themselves or are actually wearing their own facial hair.
I can see this type of a “barrier thingy” catching on – just think about all the Zagnuts & Bit-O-Honeys you will save.