The Sign Guy Without A Sign

CarveLike most iPhone users, I have a love/hate relationship with Siri.  The guidance offered by her electronic vocal chords generally gnaws on my nerves while leaving me wondering why I subject my life’s traverse to a programmer in Northern California.

You’re familiar with the procedure:  Push and hold the “home” button and wait for her to acknowledge your summons…

“Beep, beep.”

“Take me to the nearest sign shop.”

“Did you say, ‘wine shop’”?

“No.  Take me to the nearest sign shop.”

After selecting the closest sign maker from her offerings, I obediently followed the cues to a site on Front Street.

We needed a sign to affix to the outside of our new church building in Butte, Montana.  A sign is important because it tells the public who you are and sets some expectation about what people can find inside.

Without much misdirection I arrived outside a building bearing 804 as the only other confirmation I had reached my destination.  Quickly scanning the building, I noticed a blinking “Open” sign in the window.  I exited my vehicle and after approaching the door, reached for the handle and pulled.  Being bested by a magnet in the top left corner sent my eyes looking for a solution.  “Push the button for service” was posted just above a metal box to the left of the door.  So, wanting service, I pushed the button.


“Can I come in?”

The faint hum of electricity granted me entrance into the building.

I immediately stood in a hallway.  Looking both directions, each way provided 20 feet of carpet leading to the next expanse.  A taller person might have missed the little red arrow affixed to the wall at knee level pointing would be adventurers to the left.

The customer at the service counter had long gray hair.  Not the gray you get for $8 at the local beauty college but the gray that absorbs light; dull, dingy – almost sepia like.  He was leaning in such a way that his center of gravity jumped through the service window to an employee with gauges the size of golf balls.  The millennial accessorized his mutilated ears with ingots thrust through his eye brows and lower lip.  He wore a black knitted cap with white paint screened deep into its fibers in the shape of a skull.  The gray-haired man was filling out what looked like a job application.

“Business is booming in Butte” I thought trying to find an explanation for why I was standing four deep in a line to order a sign.

Abstract art hung on the walls of the large, brightly lit room.  Scattered magazines lay on top of the forty-two inch round table at my rear.  One magazine in particular – you know, one of those oversized ones?  The cover image was a grunge guy leaning against a wall crossing his arms against his midriff.  Entertaining some way he paid for all that ink, I wondered how many banks owned his house.  I couldn’t help but notice the title at the top of the half-inch stack of high gloss paper all glued together that read, “Hanabis”.

“Ok, all I need now is your driver’s license.”

I watched as the man dipped into his back pocket to retrieve his billfold and hand over his identity.

As if my suspicion wasn’t already redlined, all the components of this experience: the door, the music, the old guy, the millennial, the abstract art, the over-sized magazine – it all came into focus when, in one rehearsed transaction, the younger handed the older…a green card.

“I’m in a marijuana shop…” , the synapses of my brain crashed together.

I caught eyes with the satiated gray-haired man as he silently hobbled past me.   Before the next customer could begin her personal iteration of a jackpot I asked, “Hey, is this a sign shop?”

“No, we’re medical marijuana.”

“Where’s the sign shop?”

“Next door.”

“Next door” was only a room full of unlabeled boxes and metal shelving.  Acting on the last remaining option, I exited the building.

One hundred feet away was a descending ramp leading to a rickety old door left open about two inches.  Peering inside took me to a place I remembered seeing on the 27 inch color TV in our living room when I was a kid watching Pinocchio.  The scene was dark and dusty.  The rays of luminance from the windows cast shadows on the concrete floor revealing the corkscrew shaves of wood – the evidence of effort from the man standing at the table in the center of the room.

A real life Geppetto, the sign maker wielded a wooden mallet and a chisel.

“Tick.”   “Tick.”   “Tick.”  Each instance sending more material to the cold floor.

The answer seemed obvious, but I was compelled to ask,  “Is this a sign shop?”

I entered the shop introducing myself with a smile and a handshake.  His strong, leathery hand was the antithesis of his face and voice.  We laughed together as I told him about my trip to the marijuana shop.  He indicated I wasn’t the first.

“You know why, John?  You’re the sign guy without a sign.  Your business isn’t properly marked.  Nothing outside promises I’ll get what I’m looking for – a sign.”

Stop and think about that for a minute.  Isn’t a sign guy without a sign very similar to a Christian without the outward evidence of an inward Christ?

Did you know you’re being watched?  Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people are watching you and me looking for some external evidence of the goodness we so commonly profess.  But, what are people seeing? Well, that’s for you to control.  And, that’s the lesson learned from the sign guy who doesn’t have a sign.

PS.  I think I figured out what “Hanabis” is.  It must be the combination of hemp and canabis – Hanabis.

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