San Francisco, CA
Last dispatch from the city in which TEAL spends its second-longest sojourn. Today, like yesterday, was unusually warm for San Francisco, which apparently does not normally deviate from a very strict fifty-to-seventy-degree temperature spread. Josh and I met up with Julie, a friend from Dartmouth days. She had been following my adventures and was eager to join in on a little typo-hunting action. I mean, who wouldn’t be, really? So we had a Vietnamese lunch and then headed for the upper part of town, where we’d explore a cartoon museum that Josh had unearthed while poring over tomes of San Franciscan lore. As we walked along Mission Street toward the bus stop, I spotted a sign, and then hesitated. Around here it could be hard to tell whether a shop was run by people speaking English as their second language. Ultimately I decided to bring it to their attention.
It turned out the place was being run by very sweet twins who did speak excellent English. One of them came outside with me and looked at the sign, and she professed that she had never noticed the error. She said I could fix it if I liked. Julie was watching this exchange in delight: real live typo correction in action! Except there was a snag: the typo was ten or twelve feet off the ground, and I confess that despite the righteousness of my quest, the pantheon of spelling-related deities has not yet seen fit to grant me superhuman height. My new friend loaned me a stepladder, but it was only junior-size and would not do the trick. All I could do was shake my fist at the typo from below. As we were leaving, the other twin remarked dryly to Julie, “See that sign over there, ‘We Love Our Customers’? That is another typo.”
When we got up to the neighborhood of the museum, we passed a sign advertising the goods available at a local cafe. Josh and Julie kept walking, but I stopped. This had been a foe back in Austin, and I was concerned to see that it had popped up again on this dreaming western shore.
I went inside and a girl behind the counter asked how she could help me. So I said, “Could I get a Sahara, please?”
“Uh… I’m sorry?”
“A Sahara, please, that’s what I’d like.”
“Sahara,” she said, uncomprehending.
“Or is the Gobi better here?” I said.
The poor girl had no clue what I was talking about, so I relented and mentioned that their sign out front promised DESERTS rather than DESSERTS. She laughed and granted my permission to fix the sign after I told her that I already had the red marker appropriate for the job. Julie was amazed that the girl had allowed me to mark the sign. I, on the other hand, had seen often enough on this trip what a little charm and assertiveness could accomplish. Now I just have to figure out how to summon them in non-typo-hunting situations.
Well, by now Julie was itching to score a typo find of her own. She and Josh split off from me for a couple of minutes to grab a coffee while I went to pull some more cash from my now somewhat ailing bank account. When I saw her again, she was excited. “Come on! I have to show you something.”
“What is it?”
“I found a typo at Starbucks.”
She spoke the name of the titan that she had felled with the proper amount of gravity, and indeed, I was impressed. Normally I can’t find much in the way of error at large-chain shops and cafes, since the signs are handed down from the corporate level (unless we’re talking about a Filene’s-Basement-style typo such as MENS, present in all stores). But I saw when I accompanied her in that this Starbucks, at least, had allowed some space for handwritten descriptions of products. This one will be hard to see unless you make it bigger. I’ll wait.
I got the attention of a girl at the counter. “Hi there. I noticed that elegant was spelled wrong on your sign.”
She checked it out. “No, that’s right. E-L-E-G-E-N-T.”
“A-N-T,” said a couple of nearby customers at the same time Julie said it.
“Oh, really,” said the girl.
“Yeah,” I said. “Would it be possible for you to fix it?”
A couple of her male co-workers had been hovering nearby during this exchange, and now one of them stepped forward aggressively. “Are you actually here to buy anything, man?”
“Just some peace of mind,” I said.
“You won’t find that at Starbucks,” he muttered, and backed off.
“I can fix it,” she said, “but I’d need to take the sign down and get the right marker for the correction.”
“That’s okay, I’ll wait,” I said. “I’m going around the country fixing typos. I really appreciate that you’re helping out.”
So she climbed up and took that part of the sign down, and got her special marker, and wiped out the whole section to redo it. As she worked, I hung out at the counter and people kept queuing up behind me, not realizing that my purposes here went beyond a mere double-tall latte. The other dude behind the counter decided to take his shot at me. “Does such a little thing really matter?”
“Yes,” I said. I felt bad that my helpful accomplice, currently scrawling laboriously with her goldenrod marker, had to work alongside such callous folk. Yes, friend, little things matter. In aggregate, they become a big thing. I have molded all of these little things into a great typo-ball that I drag around with me, and the weight of carelessness and undereducation is heavy indeed. Others will dismiss you. I am trying to help you. Everyone deserves a fair shake at being taken seriously.
The finished work was fine indeed, though strangely the content had been altered just a little. I suppose that “great depth” and “well-balanced” are equally meaningless as coffee descriptors anyway. I am grateful to the girl who fixed this for me in the face of grating indifference from her colleagues.
We went on to the cartoon museum and discovered that something called “Sex and Sensibility” was among its current exhibitions. It highlighted the work of ten female cartoonists and included detailed biographies for all of them. And the museum had somehow managed to make a few fuckups in just about all of the bios. The first and second typos I found just amused me, but by the sixth or seventh or eighth, I had become genuinely angry on behalf of these cartoonists. This was supposed to be their big moment of recognition. But the museum had shat out its signage rather than taking the time to present it properly.
I’ll walk you through this gallery of garbage. Some of the pictures didn’t come out that great, so I’ll clarify when needed. Also, I must credit Julie for finding some of these.
“Carolita realized that … artistic talent was nothing without and left home in search of the latter.” Artistic talent was nothing without what? A vital word has been omitted from this sentence. What did Carolita leave home in search of?
“I admit I became kind of a bif fishas flounder of Kirshenbaum…” What? What the hell does that mean? Bif? Fishas? Flounder? Also: “I felt Kirshenbaum and went on…” Perhaps “I left Kirshenbaum and went on…”? You think?
“…because living in each ha made me the cartoonist that I am.” Ha? Did she laugh in the middle of a serious statement about her influences as an artist? Or did somebody screw this up?
“…raised in one of he lesser parts of the greater Chicago area”; “Her father often said in is jovial way…”. More letters capriciously stolen from words that could not afford to lose them.
“…where she broke the gender barrier bys…”
Schulz or Schultz? You can’t have it both ways.
Two here. The missing period, but also “self-charactures”.
“I always loved to draw and really loved in a cartoony way.” How exactly would one love in a cartoony way? Maybe hitting somebody over the head with a large hammer and saying KER-POW! could be a means of expressing affection?
“I though they were boring.”
“…and I live suburbia.” Hunh?
The worst one. “Interestingly, while she did not have a favorite Beatle, she did have a minute-and-a-half and then went on to work at numerous jobs…” Absolutely no sense. All reason has fled from this sentence.
I confronted the woman at the front desk of the place and asked to speak with the curator of the Sex and Sensibility exhibit. I explained that the biographies were riddled with typos. At first her reaction was defensive. She said that they’d had a high-school intern type up most of the signs, as if it were acceptable to lay the blame on that poor kid. Then she came along to have a look at the errors. I pointed out the bif/fishas/flounder one as an example. Before I could go on to catalogue the other mistakes, the woman changed tactics and said that all the biography signs had been copied from the bios in the book that had inspired the exhibit. She said she’d done a couple of the signs herself and had noticed errors. I said, “So you faithfully copied the errors over into the exhibit signs?”
She didn’t respond to this. Instead, she directed my attention to the book, in the museum gift shop. I leafed through until I found the biographies. To my utter lack of surprise, the book version of the biographies, the source material, was error-free. Only by reading them could I actually understand what the exhibit versions had been trying to say. Bif-fishas-flounder? It should have said, “I admit I became kind of a big fish as founder of Kirshenbaum…” That makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? (Though I suppose being a flounder of Kirshenbaum would qualify as big-fish status, too.) And here, “I always loved to draw and really loved drawing in a cartoony way.” (Emphasis mine.) And the one about the favorite Beatle and the minute-and-a-half? Turned out a whole line had been omitted from that artist’s biography. No wonder it hadn’t made any sense.
I went back to the woman and explained how the book actually had the biographies right, and that it seemed the errors had been introduced by the museum. Was there a way that they could fix the signs? The woman sighed. “You’re the first person who’s ever said anything about the mistakes. Here’s the name of the curator. I really doubt that they’d get fixed even if you tell him about them.”
That sort of pessimism has no place in the Typo Eradication Advancement League. Together, I believe we can rectify the shameful treatment of the cartoonists featured in the exhibit. So drop Andrew Farago a line at [redacted] and let him know how great it would be if the Cartoon Art Museum cleaned up its signs in the Sex and Sensibility exhibition. Or call [redacted]. Perhaps hearing from a farrago of concerned citizens would help him to make the right decision.
Typos Found: 182
Typos Corrected: 102
[Edit 4/16: I’ve removed the contact information. Andrew Farago apparently fixed the signs at the museum thanks to the persistence of TEAL readers, so no need to e-mail him anymore!]