I guess I hadn’t realized how many signals we process during the day. They turn up in the strangest places, and most of the time, we probably don’t even recognize some of them as signals. There are some obvious ones, like turn signals. For those of you who were born in more recent years, these were flashing red or amber lights on vehicles that drivers could use to signal their intention to turn to other drivers, helping them to avoid surprise.

My most recent encounter with a turn signal was the Tacoma pickup truck, painted a sort of turd-brown color stationed in the center lane, who signaled his intention to cut across my lane onto the left-hand exit to I-95, and possibly hoping to take a layer of paint from my front bumper with him. I may have seen the signal blink twice. Thank you, turd-man!

But there have been other signals. My keen eye is accustomed to spotting signals from co-workers lately. I have somewhat recently started working in an office that clearly had not previously been exposed to puns, dad-jokes, or off-the-wall sound effects. I know this because I can read their signals. “Pfft,” accompanied by an eye-roll signals to me that they get it! I think it also means that they appreciate it very much and hope I can provide more of the same. Game on!

I work with some white-shirted mathematicians (They’re very rare, you know) who spin around in their chairs to correct a statement that I’ve made, finger pointed up like they are ready to make their point, when all of a sudden, they hang their heads, purse their lips, and sigh, an obvious signal that they had not anticipated my attempts at humor or some play on words, and a correction is not required. Then they see my signal to them that indicates that I suck at math, I have a different expansion of the acronym they just used, and that I’m certainly not following that explanation. My signal typically involves a slack jaw and a look of confusion in my glazed-over eyes.

I saw another signal in the men’s room. Settle down… To the casual observer, the empty “soap bag” lying beside the sink might just look like the attendant had simply forgotten to throw it away, but my trained eye helped me understand immediately that another guy, tired of the empty soap dispenser for the past three days, had torn open the dispenser and forcibly removed the soap bag to signal to the attendant that the world’s liquid soap supplies had been depleted by as much as 24 ounces. Again. There’s soap in that dispenser tonight, so the signal worked!

The trickiest of all is the non-signal. Let’s say a man leaves his office and walks down the hall from north to south, while another man leaves his office and walks from south to north. Both have chosen their path along the center of the hall. They each are aware that they are closing on the other man, getting closer and closer, yet neither will raise his head. One checks his watch repeatedly as if late for a meeting, while the other studies intently a paper, yet he need not read a word of it. Closer and closer. Who will move first? “Ahh, it’s 2:15,” one man thinks to himself. “Room 3S044,” thinks the other. They are close enough now that they can see each other’s shoes, and watch guy pops his head up, just before paper guy.

“Aww, sorry man,” says watch guy. “No worries, dude,” says paper guy. Secretly, paper guy thinks to himself, “Haha! I won!” You might think that there were many signals presented during this near-miss event, but each calculated his moves and actions to intently focus on not sending any signals at all. It’s like a game of man-chicken. “I own this path along the center line of floor tiles and don’t you forget it.” It’s like ignoring the turn signal that the Chevy Cruze has had on for two miles. You just know he don’t mean it! It’s like that fake laugh at the joke you don’t get. It feels right at the time, but you don’t mean it.

So when it comes to signals, you’ve gotta mean it. Go ahead, tear into that dispenser and rip that empty soap bag right out. Make a statement!

[And if you have visited my blog before, sorry for not posting for a while. Boy, there sure is a lot of crap to do during the summer months!]

One thought on “It’s All About the Signals

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