There was a stop sign in the scrub desert outside my town. I used to like to go there, because it was outside my town. But there was no road, and I never understood who put it there. Maybe at some point in time there was a road (or rather two, which intersected at this stop sign), but only unincorporated badlands surrounded it. Nothing human for miles, save this stop sign. And a new one too—not one of those old blackwhite throwbacks which would lead you to conclude a road had been there, and just vanished in the corrosion of desert time.
How many stop signs actually exist in the world? Are there as many stop signs as there are people? Probably not. Maybe, perhaps, in certain areas. It would be nice to think there was one stop sign for every person, even if there were more people than stop signs. Their unequal quantities would somehow link one to one, along that inexhaustible diagonal that would never halt, and for every person there would be a stop sign.
But what made the stop sign appear? Where did it come from? Some say Michigan 1915, but that can’t be right. Stop signs carried the bubonic plague to Europe, most likely syphilis too. There is good evidence stop signs were behind that drama at marker 10 Appian Way, where a fateful shiv set in motion something which would crush us all. Even at Mnajdra slight traces of aluminum were found in the altars, and some primitive retroreflective pigment that correlated with the stop sign’s astonishing ability to see at night.
Should we seek first the time of geology, when the stop sign was formed by sloppy magmic copulations, whose emissions extruded upward, thrusting toward the surface and into our dumbass primate hands? What is it that made us give ourselves to the stop sign? That made stop signs something that we listen to, that we obey so unconsciously we need not think about it. It says STOP. When it says STOP, you stop, and if you don’t stop something bad will happen to you. And it’s good that something bad will happen to you, because if you don’t stop you might do something bad to someone else, which is worse than something bad happening to you, most of the time.
It was only recently that the stop sign came out of hiding. For this we must thank the vast empire-building of AASHO, whose great manifesto The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices ensured the standardization and streamlining of the stop sign, and thus its general assimilation into mainstream society. Before then, a stop sign could be anything; it could even be nothing. It was horrible; the stragglers prowling about the fields late at night, howling, tearing at their clothes. That was in the time we do not name, the time of the Crossing-Guard Syndicate.
This answers nothing.
When I think about stop signs, I think, how many species of stop sign exist? Of course they have various languages, shapes, etc. But the stop sign is always red. This is due to an atavistic reflex, when we were all still eaten by the Spider Goddess and excreted through her menstruations. But exterior morphology is not important. I was trying to cry all night. What is important is the stop sign’s specification. Some are tolerant, inclusive, ALL-WAY STOP. Some are willing to try new things, like the 3-WAY STOP, which are surprisingly tricky to navigate, and you need a lot finesse not to be overwhelmed by their lopsided waltz. And some are prejudiced, telling you that though you must stop, OPPOSING TRAFFIC DOES NOT.
Then there are those janus-faced bastards, who say if you are going straight you must stop, but if you’re taking a right hand turn, no—it’s OK, you don’t need to stop. So when you approach them you hesitate, and you say, ‘what, well, OK, I guess I’m taking a right turn, but I just don’t feel comfortable with this,’ and then you slow down, in that horribly indecisive jerky manner, and it throws off the whole rhythm of your drive, everything is ruined by that RIGHT TURN DOES NOT STOP, and you feel like an electric shock of pavlovian revulsion because you didn’t stop. Which is good. If you cannot feel that, please contact your primary care physician immediately. Because a RIGHT TURN DOES NOT STOP is not a stop sign. It’s a yield sign. The yield sign; the shadow of stop signs, its confidence man, or chimera. A bizarro world stop sign, a world where we need only coast, there are no switching stations; drifting about, accelerating and decelerating without end, hesitation and frenzy, no digital friend here, always the fuzzy analog of the middle.
If not for the stop sign, this would have been our world, just a ribosomal soup of horizontal yields, just cold stellar dust never dense enough to cohere, never able to take off vertically and vertebrately. The stop sign would never have existed, if not for that primordial stop sign which made it possible, which of course doesn’t make any sense but what do you expect? What is that you expected from me? I could give you nothing. I was talking to you about stop signs. That’s it. Stop trying to make this into something that it’s not.
In Israel, to be clever, the stop sign is simply a hand, palm facing out, which is ironic due to its close resemblance with the Heil! salute. Sometimes a traffic light pretends to be a stop sign, but this happens mostly in rural areas at night, and they’ve been stepping up police action on this problem. On rare occasions we are treated to a feeling of communal warmth, after a light is broken and a homeostasis sets in amongst motorists, a slow exchange of turns, a great procession of cooperative agents, all playing the part of someone stopping at a stop sign that is not there.
Stop signs unattached to the ground unnerve me, especially those on school buses. They remind me of the guillotine, and how I don’t want to go back to that time, when a stop sign was a hatchet, when a hatchet was a law. But the lowest stop signs are surely those in parking lots, because you always miss them, and they don’t make sense—they’re spaced every five meters apart, phantom brigades that plague you when no one is there, late at night, lying in the backseat of the Skylark, a fluorescent scythe of light drawing itself gently across your neck. And you get so angry, because we don’t have faith in ourselves to stop for others, even in a parking lot.
We need those stop signs. Especially at night, when the world is dead and you’re driving alone through an endless latticework of junctures, receding into some yawning Hadean contraction. And you have no one to stop for.
What happens then, when you have no one to stop for, and you’re waiting at that stop sign, like I did that night, a long time ago?
Trying to feel something. For what I did to you there. That night. Why I can’t.
I don’t understand. What I did to you.
I don’t really know what’s in there.