The Willful Incomprehension of Signs and Advertisements or: How my Heart was Broken by a Perspective Trickster

I was at Paddington train station the other day and I saw an advertisement that piqued my interest. The advertisement read: “Child Neglect. Two words that just don’t go together,” but there was a man standing in front of it and his body was covering the words “two” and “don’t,” leaving me with the message: “Child Neglect. Words that just go together.” The message’s true meaning was hidden, and from there the humour was derived. I laughed loudly and pointed at the sign, which undoubtedly looked rather insensitive to those people who were looking at the advertisement from another angle, such is the Machiavellian nature of perspective.

If only there could be more men opportunistically positioned in front of advertisements in order to subvert their intended message; then life would be an almost intolerably funny series of humorous occurrences. Such an endless barrage of mirth would run comedic rings around the best Monty Python sketches, the humour deriving from real life observations rather than high-flown surrealist hijinks.

Then I looked around the station and I saw a man in front of a sign for “Urger King.” Imagine that; a king that urges people to do things. You go into Urger King and a king, an actual monarch, tries to convince you to go vegetarian or set up a direct debit at Cancer Research. How could they market that as a financially viable product? That would be ridiculous, and I laughed loudly and obnoxiously and the people around me, who from their spacial position could only read the words “Burger King,” probably assumed that I found the concept of processed beef inherently amusing. Or that I had some sort of hilarious disability.

Then I looked around the station again and I saw a man standing in front of a sign reading “Donald’s.” What does that mean? Is it a shop that only sells items that have belonged to men named Donald? They would have lots of pens that used to belong to Donald Trump, and a hat that used to belong to Donald Trump, and a ball of string that used to belong to Donald Trump, and various other items belonging to all the other Donalds. How could such an obviously doomed business plan generate enough revenue to pay for the rent at one of Britain’s busiest train stations? Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. So I pointed and I laughed and there was a girl sitting next to me who heard my laughter, and at first she wasn’t sure what I was laughing at, but then she looked up and saw the sign and she too started laughing hysterically.

We both laughed together for a full fifteen minutes. I tentatively reached over and held her hand. We smiled at each other.

“That’s brilliant,” I said. “It’s so funny when advertisements are obscured in such a way to change their meanings.”

“I agree,” she said. “I mean, ‘onald’s?’ Imagine that, a shop selling items that belong to people called Onald.”

And my heart dropped. It turns out that from her perspectival viewpoint that sign carried a different, much less funny, meaning. Onald isn’t even a real name. This girl obviously had an appalling sense of humour, and I told her so, right to her face because I’m a big boy, and it caused an awfully icy atmosphere.

Then the man in front of the MacDonald’s sign, who had been standing about two metres away from us all this time, started to speak to me:

“I fooled you,” he said. “I deliberately positioned myself so that I could manipulate the meaning of this MacDonald’s sign in two different ways in order to momentarily raise your hopes, making you think you had found your soul-mate based on your perfectly compatible senses of humour, but actually you were just sitting next to an idiot. I hope you have learned your lesson about deriving humour from perspective.”

A tear fell from my eye. The girl next to me cleaned her ear with her little fingernail, sniffed it and ate it.

“Will I ever be able to feel love again?” I asked.

“You can’t feel love,” he said, “it’s an abstract concept, not a physical substance that can be touched; you can only experience it.”

And with that he flew away.