"It is better to know nothing than to know what isn't so."
- Henry Wheeler Shaw
The utility truck in front of me wound its way slowly through the narrow, residential street. With its telescoping ladder protruding menacingly from the rear, I stayed a comfortable distance behind until we approached a traffic light and the truck came to a stop. I narrowed the gap between us, partly out of habit and partly to check out the sign under the rear cab window. My car must have been 20-25 feet from the tip of the ladder when I read the following: "Caution. Stay back 300 feet."
What? How was I supposed to leave the length of a football field between my vehicle and the truck if I had to get within 25 feet of the sign just to read the sign? Or am I the only nearsighted driver who can't decipher 6-inch letters from 300 feet away? A flapping, red flag, or at least a 3-foot sign attached to the end of the ladder, would seem more effective than that little sign.
Incidentally, Mr. Truck Driver, forget the exact distance - which it's doubtful anyone but an all-weekend football fan could judge anyway - and replace it with something like, "If you can read this sign, you are following too close."
Darlington Hall, the relatively new Soldier Service Center at Fort Gordon, is a magnificent improvement over the forever-moving series of locations where military personnel and dependents used to go to sign in, register their cars, or get a new ID card. For example, the process to renew my card, which took about 20 minutes a few weeks ago, used to take hours in one of the old white buildings in the center of the Post. But it wasn't the time I minded most - I could always bring a book to read while waiting my turn. It was the elaborate, "I'm-not-sure-youre-up-to-this-complicated-set-of-instructions" mentality directed at those waiting for their new card. The verbal procedure went something like this:
"Take a number, please, and have a seat. When your number is called, I want you to follow those little, green footprints on the floor all the way to the next room where."
I've forgotten the rest of the spiel, but not the footprints - nor the shade of glossy green someone used to paint them there.
Probably no one is more prone to issuing inane instructions than parents - though the health clinic that wouldn't take appointments over the phone or on Mondays, I discovered, the Monday I made my personal appearance - comes close. We've all told our children not to eat too much, stay out too late or watch too much TV, and then left them to figure out the meaning of "too" in much or late.
Children are literalists, I learned when I was a child - and promptly forgot when I had children of my own.
"If you turn the light on, then you turn it off," I can still hear my father say. He must have forgotten he also said, "If you are the last person to leave a room, then you turn the light off." Consequently, the light in my confused brothers room became an eternal flame because the one who entered the room first turned the light on, but didn't turn the light off if he left the room first. Naturally, our obedient sibling wouldn't turn the light off because he didn't turn it on.
Parenthood 202 kicked in for me the day my 3-year-old, who was sitting in the back of our station wagon (ancient word for van), threw one of his toys at me.
"Don't you ever throw anything at me when I'm driving again," I yelled, to which he replied, "When you not driving I can throw things at you?"
When all else fails, we're told, read the directions. Be glad to, if I can see them. Might not need to as long as I can tell a left turn from a right. (Following footprints on the floor, eyes down, could cause a collision with the person instructed to "watch where you are going.") And, as my former 3-year-old, now computer-expert can attest, when it comes to technology, theres no correct distance, no instruction literal enough for this non-technocrat to understand.
"Mom, I've already told you what to do; you don't listen to me."
Or maybe I'm just throwing the toy back into his court.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.)
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