Fiftie and Me | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Fiftie and Me 

A Sign of the Times at Crate & Barrel

It had to be the giggle. A giggle'll give a guy away every time.

The thing is, see, I don't giggle often. I mean actually, audibly, discernibly out and out...

"Giggle!" I might as well have said, because that's how it sounded.

I'm standing inside the front window of the Michigan Avenue Crate & Barrel on a gorgeous blue midsummer morning. I'm looking at a little sign advertising a hot item on the Crate & Barrel floors this summer season: the canvas butterfly chair, 22 dollars or thereabouts. Nothing more remarkable than merely quaint about the chairs or their prices, really. No, the signage itself is the thing that delights. It's one of those plain white C&B note cards with the famous plain Helvetica type telling us the sophisticated advertising message that these butterfly chairs are a

Fiftie's Flashback!

Stop there, please. Consider for just a passing moment the rare phenomenological combination of typography and spelling (nits of the sort that just happen to be near and dear to me--possibly too much so, as the balance of this tale may prove). Now, the apostrophe is a damnably difficult tool to use, right up there with the chain saw and the interplanetary communications telescope, but this is a case where we have entrusted its implementation to a firm that specializes in the purveyance of things designed to make people feel comfortable with their taste and intelligence. And what I am looking at is an artfully rendered sign that says

Fiftie's Flashback!

All right--flash back forward: I begin to giggle. Audibly, discernibly. The kind of sound you try to groom out of yourself at about the age that the hormones move in.

There's a young sales clerk just a few feet down the aisle, and she looks over at me as if I'd just, well, not exactly committed flatus, perhaps; more like as if I had burped or said something along the lines of "Gosharoonie." Maybe with garlic on my breath.

Immediately I stood to my defense. I pointed to the silly sign.

"Do you see that?" I said, me smiling, me friendly.

"See what?" she said, staring at me standing there pointing at this Fiftie sign.

I pointed harder, more pointedly, to get her to look at the sign instead of me.

"Isn't that great?" I said. "'Fiftie!'--it sounds like a cartoon character from, from back then, in the 50s." (I was going to say it sounded like a sidekick of Gerald McBoing Boing, but then she'd be calling building security for sure.)

Now at least she was looking in the direction of the sign. Silently. Dutifully. Humoring me with no sign of humor in her eyes.

Ever the closet professor, I tickled my finger through the air, tracing the pinched, possessive curl of the apostrophe inside the wounded space of the badly amputated S. "You see?" I launched into the vertigo of an incipient lecture, my stomach tumbling down through space with her blank incomprehension. "The apostrophe shouldn't be there." She didn't even blink. "It confuses everything." She looked utterly unconfused. To her eyes the 1950s are a porcupine of superfluous curlicues. It's art-directed, a butterfly of type. In a last-grasp attempt to share the planet with this person, I made what I considered to be a kindly and civilized concession: "Of course you could move it over here, to the right of the S." The flashback being of its particular time. "But as it is, it all belongs to some goofy guy called Fiftie."

She just stared. My stomach plummeted. There is a special place of horror reserved in the soul for the feeling of humor in mid-explication.

"I don't see it," she said.

"You don't see it?" I said. Heap big smart guy, me.

"I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head, "I just don't see it."


"If you ever do see it," I said, lecture ended, spark of amusement sunk like hot lead, "it's a wonderful cartoon."

And Fiftie and I looked at a bright cheery fruit bowl, a set of patio candles, then back over our shoulders at the Flashback! sign once more--just to make sure the old eyes weren't playing tricks--and out the door into the ravishing summer sunlight and the perfect planting of pale purple wildflowers that C&B has placed along the parkway there.

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