The Wordless Street Sign

Showers sprinkled Portland on a Sunday afternoon. I was driving home after a superb visit with dad at the assisted living center. We talked education and politics, read the newspaper, and watched an NFL playoff game. We even took tiny shots of Wild Turkey for medicinal purpose.

A red light stopped me at a busy intersection. I looked across the avenue to a convenience store and saw a young homeless man standing on a sidewalk, talking to a power pole and the wind. Next to him stood a large piece of thick cardboard, folded in half, resting on the sidewalk at such an angle as if were a sign for passing motorists to read and decide if they wanted to act on behalf of its message.

I really didn’t pay much attention because I see such signs all the time and occasionally they motivate me to act, although repenting my sins is never among the actions.

Then I noticed something odd about the one side of the sign I could see from my vehicle. The sign was blank. A tan, three-foot by three-foot blank canvas.

What? It made no sense. I figured the other side of the sign I couldn’t see displayed a message. The light turned green and I drove by the sign’s other side. No message. How could that be? A sign without a message?

But maybe the homeless man’s blank sign was a sign and I simply didn’t get it, although I did try. (I still am.) Maybe he had yet to write the message. Maybe he never would. Maybe he was waiting for a passing motorist to toss him a Sharpie. Maybe the non sign was meant for the viewer to make up his own message on the spot. Maybe I should have pulled over and asked him what the message should read. I have Sharpies in the car. I could have written his for him, or if was incapable of conveying his message orally, which looked likely, I could dive into my creative mind and write one for him.

And it would be…?

I don’t know. To do so would have required a massive dose of presumption and I have come to learn via my many interactions with the homeless, that to presume anything about them is wrong.

Of all my strange encounters with Oregon’s homeless people the past several years, this was so far the most baffling.