Sunday, March 9, 2008


When my son Andrew was three, his favorite kiddie book featured pictures of signs. On a dull afternoon, he and I got in the car to set out on a sign hunt. In the wilds of our neighborhood, he was excited to identify stop signs, no left turns and the speed limits. Our sign safari got better after we parked in beautiful downtown Absecon and strolled down New Jersey Avenue. In rapid succession he spotted; open, closed, no parking, in, out, air-conditioned, welcome, and thank you signs.

Beyond his fun of discovery and learning, I also picked-up on the power of good signage and its value...even to toddlers. It's too bad that this message isn't embraced by more people.

In 1982, at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, the concept of good signage slipped through the hands of a co-worker named Oscar. Oscar was an Italian national with marginal mastery of the English language. In addition to having an annoying and abrasive personality, he had little experience as a craps dealer and was a slow learner. Shunned by the entire staff, this pariah forced himself into my little clique. The only reason why he was allowed to weasel himself in was because Oscar had been "juiced" into the Nugget by someone big. So we felt compelled to put on a false-face and tolerate him.

On the job, he couldn't handle being corrected by fellow dealers. The supervisors were in a worse position because he couldn't handle their criticism. Plus, because of Oscar's attitude problems with the customers, the same bosses that hated him had to protect him. The supervisors were so frustrated by him that they took their wrath out on us.

To keep the heat off, Oscar was taken aside by several of us but he never adjusted. Instead, he mistakenly took the attention he received, as friendship. He took advantage of this misinterpretation and oozed into our social circle, outside work. Then whenever Oscar had center stage, he'd reach new, "GUINNESS WORLD BOOK OF RECORDS," levels of irritation by bragging about opening an Italian restaurant.

Once Oscar interrupted a personal conversation I was having with Nick Tucker, (Nick was a universally beloved dealer and central character of my short story, "NO HELP'S HALL.").
In broken English Oscar said, "What's a good name for my restaurant?"
Nick was polite, "I don't know. I'm busy right now. Let me think about it."
Oscar turned my stomach. I thought everything he said was B. S. and that the restaurant nonsense was just a fantasy. I had always made it clear that I disliked him so I was surprised that he asked me to suggest a name for his restaurant too.
I said, "I know!"
Nick saw it coming from the gleam in my eye and said, "Don't."
I smiled, "Oscar, are you going to be doing the cooking?"
Oscar said, "Si."
So I said, "Then you should call it CASA STRUNZA."
Oscar was offended by the Italian phrase for, "House of Shit."
In addition to never speaking to me again, Oscar didn't invite me to the grand opening of his place called, "CIAO." All my other friends were invited but they gave up before they could find the place.
First, Oscar and his brother opened their elegant restaurant in an industrial park, on Polaris Drive, (off West Spring Mountain Road). They were opened for dinner only and for the most part, the industrial park closed at five. They immediately struggled. When they discovered this error, they opened for lunch but the food was too slow to prepare, too fancy and too expensive for the overwhelmingly blue-collar clientele.

More importantly, their CIAO sign, outside the complex as well as the one on the building was written in an ornate, hard to read, cursive font.

Oscar's directions did not include an actual street address. My friends, (none of which were Italian), blew by the sign which didn't even include the word; restaurant, cafe or eatery. They got lost, searched a short time in vain and gave up. After all, even if they telephoned for information, they were typical craps dealers and would have spelled the restaurant: "CHOW." After all, what else would a moron name his restaurant.

Down through the years, business people have softened their signs. These days, the word NO is rarely used. Benign international symbols have replaced "NO SMOKING" signs, and phrases like, "SHOES AND SHIRTS REQUIRED" has replaced, "NO shoes, NO shirt NO service."

To the entertainment of guys like me, Oscar, still haven't gotten the memo. This point is proven by this year's sign of the year. It is hanging right now, in the window of a gourmet (expensive) Indian restaurant, in one of Atlantic City's casinos.

I preface this statement with the following politically correct disclaimer. I mean no disrespect to my Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan friends, coworkers and customers. My "glibness" is aimed specifically at your cuisine...more specifically at the disagreeable smell of curry...To demonstrate my food sensitivity/strangeness, I feel the same way about bananas, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and liver. You put me on "FEAR FACTOR" and while everyone is hesitating about eating manatee eyes, I'd disqualify myself before the threat of the first scent of beets wafted my way!

I am guessing that this particular Indian restaurant has its own customer base...but for the life of me, I've never seen anyone inside. Perhaps it has to do with the sign on their front door...

Even a less than entrepreneurial three-year old would find that funny.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice, very funny...cheers mate !