August 14, 2014


2015 Calendars: 365-Day—Signspotting; Church Signs; Dog Shaming; Ultimate Optical Illusions. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.

     Not everyone wants a page-a-day calendar that focuses on visuals. Some people find the many picture-focused calendars too distracting, or cutesy, or just not particularly interesting. And for such people, Andrews McMeel has a wide variety of 2015 calendars that, while attractive to look at, are far more about words than they are about cartoons or pretty photos of this or that. Doug Lansky’s Signspotting, for example, is subtitled, “Absurd & Amazing Signs from around the World,” and although every page of it is in fact a photo, it is not the pictorial element that will keep you amused all year. Instead, it will be the words, such as the ones on a real-estate sign in Nevada: “Beach Front Views (just kidding).” Or the sign in India that says, “Please do not Annoy, Torment, Pester, Molest, Worry, Badger, Harry, Harass, Hackle, Persecute, Irk, Rag, Vex, Bother, Tease, Nettle, Tantalise or Ruffle the Animal.” Or the more-modest one in China: “Please don’t hurt the animals while teasing them.” Or the sign by a temporarily closed escalator: “Caution: Escalator Acting as Stairs.” Or the warning sign (if it is a warning sign) in New Zealand: “Wong Way.” Or the one at a beach in Australia: “Warning: Water.” Or the “No Outlet” sign conveniently placed adjacent to a cemetery. Some of the signs are amusing examples of mistranslation and misunderstanding, while others are simply amusing for anyone trying to figure out just what the people who put them up were trying to communicate. For instance: “Point of Hysterical Interest.” Or the sign pair in which one points to “Bluegrass Riding Tour” off to the left while the other forbids a left turn. These are not just signs of the times but signs of the places – and worth a chuckle or two throughout the coming year.

     Chuckles are in order in the Church Signs calendar, too. These are not your ordinary fire-and-brimstone threats or expressions of gratitude, although certainly many churches with roadside displays offer those. Instead, these are attempts to engage people walking or driving past with some gentle humor and reminders of the space supposedly beyond everyday cares to be found inside. True, the exact purpose of a few of these signs is a bit opaque: “Creditors have better memories than debtors.” But others are genuinely thoughtful: “God prefers kind atheists over hateful Christians.” And many are pointed reminders of what counts, or should count, in life: “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything – they just make the best of everything.” “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” “God does not make misteaks.” “Be yourself! Everyone else is already taken.” “You think it’s hot here?” Always pithy and often wry, these church offerings can be a way to connect with a better part of yourself in your daily life: “Instead of pointing a finger, lend a hand.” Or they can be words of wisdom for any day of the week: “A man is also known by the company he avoids.” Or they can simply be thought-provoking: “Always put off until tomorrow what you shouldn’t do at all.”

     That last admonition does not apply to dogs, as is abundantly clear from the words in the Dog Shaming calendar for 2015. Consider: dogs are odor-driven creatures (unlike humans, who are sight-driven), and dogs’ basic idea of food is “anything that fits into my mouth or that I can make small enough so it fits.” Put those two elements together and you have the recipe for a lot of the things that dogs do “wrong,” which is to say, things that dogs do simply because they are dogs. That is what this calendar is all about: dogs simply being dogs, and the way in which that drives their human companions up the proverbial wall. Taken from the Web site, the pages of this calendar feature humans writing things about their dogs’ (mis)deeds and placing them on or adjacent to the canines – which look properly abashed or completely indifferent, depending on each dog’s personality. “Mittens are my favorite snack.” “We ate our mom’s homework” (pieces of which are strewn about). “I ate the whole stick of butter still wrapped.” “Don’t let my handsomeness fool you; I can’t be left at home alone. In the two months since my adoption, I’ve already destroyed two crates, a patch of carpet, and a couch leg.” “When you leave I get sad and lick all the couch cushions.” “I bit a lady’s bike tire today and Dad had to drive her home because my teeth punctured it!” “I stink because I roll in dead fish!” “I play in mud after I get home from the groomer.” “I ate another loaf of bread.” The dogs’ expressions and body language are a big part of the fun of this calendar, and the pups’ misadventures run the gamut of everything you would expect from a nonhuman species with which humans have shared space (but not sensory experiences) for many thousands of years. Some of the dogs actually do look ashamed, at least to human eyes, but plenty of them look unconcerned by or even delighted with whatever it is they have done. And so many of them are adorable that any dog lover will immediate gravitate to and appreciate this year’s worth of “oops” moments. Dog lovers with a sly sense of humor may consider buying an extra calendar to give to their cat-loving friends – since, as is well known, cats have no shame about anything, ever.

     Just as the dog pictures enhance the words in Dog Shaming, so the words in Ultimate Optical Illusions enhance the experience of looking at the illustrations. Here, though, explanatory words and pictorial elements are equally important. In this 2015 calendar by Gianni A. Sarcone and Brad Honeycutt, each day offers something to gaze at with a sense of wonder, surprise or discovery – and an explanation of why you see what you are seeing. “Hypnotic Discs,” for instance, are 16 multicolored discs against a purple background, and they seem to move: “Repeated concentric patterns with contrasting hues cause many visual systems to ‘see’ the presence of motion where there is none.” And “tunnel effect” is a “mysterious tunnel [that] appears to be expanding toward you!” Then there is a picture showing a four-eyed cat – which is disconcertingly difficult to look at: “What makes your eyes dizzy is the fact that they are trying to focus while your brain is fighting to give you the most coherent image of a cat.” Then there is a snail shell that is clearly a spiral, except that it isn’t: “The recurring pattern is actually made up of concentric ellipsis,” which you can prove by tracing them with a finger. Not all the pages here are drawings: there is a vintage photo of a woman with something menacing lurking within it, and another of the Eiffel Tower in which a man’s face appears when you look carefully. There is even earlier history, too, such as “a reconstitution of the oldest apparent moving pattern, first devised in Roman times” and featuring the head of Medusa in the center. There are also several “impossible” drawings, in which there may be three objects or four depending on how you look at the page. These are pictures – and words – that will intrigue you throughout the coming year, helping keep your brain active and in some cases ensuring that you have your daily dose of frustration as you try to figure out what you are seeing. But at least this is frustration that will disappear in a day – to be replaced by different frustration, and different challenging amusement, on the next page.

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