There is a sign in my living room. It's brand-new. It says USBANK. It's right above the radiator when you're standing at the doorway between the living room and the study, and it's also in the study, and if you get up close to the window in the bedroom and look sideways, it's in my bedroom too. USBANK, in chunky sans serif. If you sit in a chair, you don't see USBANK anymore, because I live five stories above the sign, but all night long there is a purple-white fluorescent sunset underway just below my windows. When I close the blinds and try to sleep, the light is everywhere. It's like radiation.
Can't they turn it off? Soon as I get up the gumption to be one of those people, I'm going to go in and ask. I'm all for density. I live on Broadway. I asked for this. But I can't help wondering: Do they keep the sign lit for advertising reasons, and if so, who are they advertising banking to at 3:00 a.m.? The junkies under Rite Aid's marquee across the street, wailing their junkie opera? If anything deserves to be lit up all night, it's Rite Aid's imitation-Deco marquee, with its neon ribs and gills, and yet Rite Aid turns out its sign before 11:00 p.m. every night.
The family in Italo Calvino's fantastic little story "The Moon and GNAC," from Calvino's book Marcovaldo, probably has it worse than I do. They look right into the neon letters GNAC, part of a blinking sign that says SPAAK-COGNAC, turning off and on in 20-second intervals. One of the boys, "a melancholy youth, every time the GNAC went off, saw the dimly lighted window of a garret appear behind the curl of the G, and beyond the pane the face of a moon-colored girl, neon-colored, the color of light in the night, a mouth still almost a child's that, the moment he smiled at her, parted imperceptibly and seemed almost to open in a smile; then all of a sudden from the darkness that implacable G of GNAC burst out again, and the face lost its outline, was transformed into a weak, pale shadow, and he could no longer tell if the girlish mouth had responded to his smile."
Then his brother puts the sign out with a slingshot. Then a new, worse sign goes up.
It's a story I recommend even if you don't live across the street from a lighted sign, and I wouldn't have known about it if not for The Stranger's art director Corianton Hale, who heard about my USBANK situation and loaned me Marcovaldo. When was the last time a friend put a Calvino book in your hand? Cori and I met before either of us worked together, back when he used to create entire fonts in his spare time. The guy's a visionary. He's a goddamn genius. And he's leaving The Stranger, for France or somewhere. I'm trying to be okay with it. Things come, things go. Sigh.
Hail to the Hale!