A few days ago I was on my way to a dental appointment when an impulse prompted me to detour through our old neighborhood. Years had passed since I’d driven down these streets and I saw a street sign that made me smile. It wasn’t a traffic sign; it was one of those chin-high decorative brick walls that announce the name of a new housing development or apartment complex. I pulled to the curb and studied it. Written on the bricks:
SEXTON MOUNTAIN ROAD
Sexton Mountain Road was a development of comfortable homes named for the street leading up to an unimpressive bluff called Sexton Mountain. The sign was in good shape, without any vandalism. This was intriguing because I remembered when this sign was created. The letters spelling out the name were made of individual pieces of wood attached to the brick backdrop. Thieves thought it great fun to steal the “T,” creating a message that made the prurient giggle:
SEX ON MOUNTAIN ROAD
The Operations Department in our city was responsible for maintaining signs, and replaced the “T” dozens of times. These letters always disappeared. They were eventually replaced with painted letters that couldn’t be stolen. Taggers wasted little time painting out the “T.” The poor fellows at Ops were constantly sent to repaint the “T,” but the problem persisted.
A police car was dispatched to persuade vandals to keep their spray cans away from the sign but the cops could never apprehend anyone in the act of vandalizing the sign. It was as if the taggers had an informant at City Hall warning them when a squad car was near. One tagger did more than paint out the letter “T.” He was skillful enough to execute a trompe l’oeil painting, clever enough to fool the eye; not only was the letter painted out but the tagger skillfully recreated the bricks beneath the letter to hide the fact that it had ever been there.
Mrs. Chatterbox worked for our city’s Operations Department at the time; she told me the city was going to repaint the sign and shield it with a sheet of bullet-proof plastic. And so they did, but the plastic vanished after a few days, along with the freshly restored letter “T.” Residents of our city gave up on a solution being found for this problem and began referring to the street as SEX ON MOUNTAIN ROAD.
As I sat there staring at the sign, my fingers itching, I was distracted by fond memories. Drives at midnight. Excuses to utilize my artistic skills and play with pompous concepts like trompe l’oeil. Yes, those were the days. Interesting that the sign was now left alone, with no one sullying it with wanton acts of disobedience.
But then I didn’t live in the neighborhood anymore.