You ever wonder where road signs come from? It all starts with the writer. That writer is me. I’m Chip Tusken. I write signs. Because somebody has to.
“RIGHT LANE MUST TURN RIGHT”? Me. “EXIT ONLY”? That came out of this brain. “NO PARKING 10 AM TO 12 NOON MONDAY STREET CLEANING, NO PARKING 6 PM TO 8 AM MON THRU SAT, 2 HR PARKING 8 AM TO 6 PM MON THRU SAT, NO PARKING 12 AM TO 3 AM TAXI ZONE, VEHICLES WITH DISTRICT NO. 47 PERMITS EXEMPTED”? That’s my Ulysses.
I can’t claim credit for every sign. My grandpa wrote “STOP.” Talent runs in the family.
The Tuskens have written signs for every strip of pavement from the New Jersey Turnpike to the San Diego Freeway. Know why they call it the San Diego Freeway? Because my dad wrote the sign over it that says “SAN DIEGO FUCKING FREEWAY.”
Now, when someone needs a sign, they come to me. I’m the brains behind it all. An artist. A creative. I don’t actually construct the sign. There are some very skilled grunts who do that. They are no better than trained beasts, but I’m grateful to them, because they make me look good, and I’m terrified of machinery.
Most people love my work unquestioningly. Once, though, I wrote a sign and the client was inexplicably outraged. He showed up in my office—the nerve, my own office!—and dropped the sign on my desk
“This says ‘SPEED LIMIT 85,’” he complained. “The speed limit is supposed to be 15.”
“I wasn’t feeling 15,” I replied as politely as could be expected.
“It’s a school zone,” whined the bald little man.
“I don’t recall writing that,” I told him.
“Well, it is. There is a school—”
“Look, if you want some sellout who’s just going to tell you what you want to hear, fine. There are plenty of hacks out there, so go hire one, you pathetic worm,” I bellowed, making sure to let some spittle fly in his face. Not so much that it would be obvious that I had done it on purpose, but enough to make him suspect that I had, and feel awful about himself later for letting it slide.
“Do you think I need you?” I continued. “Do you think I don’t have hundreds of guys just like you lining up, begging me, willing to pay any price to have me write their signs? Because I do. Do you know why this state is bankrupt? Because they gave all their money to me to write signs. Every one of my signs is a fucking original, and I charge 2 million per sign—plus exponentially increasing royalties for reproductions—and each one is worth every goddamn penny.”
“But—,” he had the audacity to stammer.
I steamrolled over him: “You want to talk to me about speed limits? What do you know about limits? I push the limits. I challenge people. Are you uncomfortable with this sign? Good. I want you to be uncomfortable. I want you to ask yourself the tough questions, and I want the answers to make you cry. If you read my signs and don’t wish you were dead, I’ve failed. And that’s why people love my work.”
He was shaking now, pitiful, weak, unsure of what to do. I let my words hang in the air meaningfully as I grabbed the wrist of a nearby gorgeous girl, pulled her close, kissed her deeply while cupping her left breast, then cast her aside roughly. She tumbled over my desk and crashed to the floor. A moment later, she stood up, pleasantly dazed, and flashed an appreciative smile. Her nose was bleeding, but somehow it only made her more beautiful as she staggered out the door. I had never seen her before and would never see her again.
“What’s my daughter doing here?” said the sad little man before me.
I slapped his face. “Get the hell out of my office.”
The sign was installed the next day.