The first thing that caught my eye at the gas pump the other day as the phrase “Free meat,” right there on the upper right of this sign. As gas fumes swirled in the cold air around me, which was tinged with the taste of the rock salt that covers roads, tires and car bodies, I couldn’t help but think that nothing sounded less appetizing than the desperation of a phrase like “free meat.”
Of course, that wasn’t the end of the line, but in my years as a headline writer I’ve come to respect linebreaks in a way a poet can understand. That the end of a line is an occasion for meaning. So I focused on “free meat,” before I realized that what the sign was really talking about was “free meat sauce” to go on the hot dogs, as well as “fixin’s.” So though the apostrophe may be correct as a way to signify a dropped letter, in this case a “g,” it also has the unintended consequence of making the word seem like it is a possessive (as in these signs).
Then I saw the hotdogs. Are they supposed to be cute and charming, dressed like chefs about to cook themselves? Is that why their smiles seem so forced, their eyes seemed to be crossed (as if to suggest lack of intelligence?), and the dog on the left is giving the finger? Are these subversive hot dogs?
Anyway: As I finished filling the tank, I was happy for this momentary distraction. It’s a lot better than the pumps that have the screens and the volume blaring at you. All I could think was that someone nearby was sitting at a desk and designed that thing, and someone else approved of it.
Good going, whoever you are!