On a very uninteresting stretch between Paso Robles and Templeton are two side-by-side billboards. At freeway speeds even without traffic they are almost impossible to read. After several tries I just managed to make out Look, a big purple rectangle ! Today, thinking there might be something of interest in the small print, I took the next off-ramp and drove back. Why the lady on the right is smiling is anyone's guess, but I kept her in the picture because I liked her lovely red lips, her perfect white teeth and her sparkling blue eyes.
I noticed the arrow only after digging through my backpack for the camera. I imagined it had something to do with pointing out the mystical eye of CBS. Did you know CBS owned billboards? But, it must be more complicated than that. With my feet now on the gravel and my eyes no longer on the road, I deciphered its message. At first I thought it might be a straight pin, but no. It's a kind of hieroglyphic that translates, This is you pointing at the billboard.
Pointing at billboards is just such an everyday moment as the text refers to, but what learning it suggests is tricky. Binary color names and geometrical shapes? Obviously, whoever wrote this copy has not raised children. A child too young to recognize rectangles is obviously not one — at 65 MPH — to attempt to engage in quick billboard discussions.
When Amie, about whom I have written many times earlier, was a senior at CalPoly she designed a public service announcement for this very billboard, so I find myself glancing in its direction as I pass. She dressed a girl we knew, a girl about to graduate from high school, in a prosthetic pregnancy stomach, though I suspect that's not the right name for it, tightly covered with a popular high-stretch blouse of the day. For a brief moment, and only at the request of the photographer, this bouncy, effervescent youth forced herself to look troubled and unhappy. In fact, she was bubbling with excitement brought about by all the attention she was receiving. In large print with no hieroglyphics the billboard asked, Friends with benefits? The subtext being, Friends with consequences?
Today's billboard reminds me of two things. First, those terrible ADD or ADHD jokes that have someone trying to say something important about Attention Deficit Disorder while the other says, "Look, is that a rabbit?" Second, though just as deeply psychological, I am reminded of those deceptively difficult memory tests, the ones like:
Also, it reminds me of the first book I read on web design. It warned against using colors to name page divisions. In other words, don't call a purple sidebar
#purple_div, just call it
#sidebar, because the moment you use a color as the name of something your client is bound to offer, "Wonderful. I love it. But, this purple rectangle thing on the side here… Can you make that blue?"