Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs


There were many, you know. To ignore them would be folly. One just has to be open to receiving them.

Of course the first sign, the epiphany day, was like a billboard for a Triple XXX Adult Book store on a rural Missouri highway. (Why do they have so many adult book stores along Missouri highways? It’s more prevalent than meth these days.) But Libby’s dramatic interp with the powerless fence, was most assuredly, a sign from the universe.

Then, they became more subtle. Or not.

Now, I’m not all that selective when it comes to fortune cookies. I just grab the one that falls out of the sack closest to me. Prophetic, no?

Fortune Cookie Fortune

Depart not from the path…

And then, there was the seven of spades. I’m walking into work one morning, and there’s a single playing card laying, face up, smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk.

Lucky 7 Card

Lucky Seven?

There hadn’t been a big storm, blowing the seven of spades out the window of a nearby card parlor. I doubt kids had been playing go fish on the sidewalk that morning. There it was, one tattered seven of spades, face up. How random is that?

The upshot of wiki was this: “… mental preparedness, acquired through the use of imagination, including the rehearsing and visualizing of desired results…”

Well, okay, then, I’m visualizin’ down the highway, baby, as I throw off the fear and loathing at the EconoLodge and barrel down the road on bounce back Monday. I turn on the radio for the first time in SIX days, still tuned to my NPR station in St. Louis, and I hear these words from a preacher, somewhere out in radio land:

“You are not alone, your scars will not defeat you. You will survive to tell your story.”

Swear to God. Then I pull into Philly and sniff out the Skuyhill River Dog Park, where I strike up a conversation with Michael W. Hall (like my mom, he puts the middle initial in there, not to be confused with just any Michael Hall). I ask about his dog. He says it’s not his, he’s a professional dog walker.

Michael W. Hall

Michael the artist, and his day job, Frank

But really, he’s a painter. He quit his other job, because he felt like he was cranking out art to feed something he didn’t believe in. He didn’t feel he was being true to himself. So, he says he cut back on expenses and he’s making it. “I’ll work four hours today and still have time to paint.”

Here’s his blog, On the Border of the American Vision, in which he says, “I paint windows looking in on the intangible sensations of what I encounter, the ecstatic, the beautiful, the confusing and miserable.” Okay, bro, you paint windows and I write about them. Tell me this is random? I don’t think so.


Michael has also spent a lot of time riding freight trains, paints them too, all the way to Mexico and back. The day before I met him, he got the biggest break of his career so far, a booking for a two-man show at Space 1026 in Philadelphia. “1026 is the gallery that first got me truly excited about art when I moved to this city in the summer of 1999. It’s an important milestone in my life to now be having a show there with one of my closest friends!” he emailed me that night.

This makes me SO happy.

Patrick and Libby

Patrick and Libby, Lefferts Place, Brooklyn.

I’m bouncing down the road, fortified by this sweet human exchange, two artists talking about what defines us, with a kid who’s young enough to be one of my own, when I roll into Brooklyn and actually see one of my own, Patrick, the film producer.

In between his own projects, he pays the bills as a locations guy, right now he’s got a gig on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. We walk Libby around the corner to a taqueria which opened up and directly across the street is an old-fashioned tent revival, the organ music riding on what little breeze there is on this hot, hot night.

Patrick says NEVER in his four years in New York has he ever seen a summer tent revival. I remind him my mother was saved at a tent revival in rural Oklahoma when she was a little girl.

We eat our tacos, Libby takes some lovin’ from the strangers who walk by. The service is coming to a close, it’s the invitational. I know this from growing up Baptist, before I converted to Catholicism when I married into a large, Irish Catholic family. Talk about a double whammy. But I remember the chorus, “watchfully, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. Come home, come home. Ye who are weary, come home.” 

The Jamaican preacher, in the slowly waning heat, when the concrete offers up what it’s been clinging to all day, he offers salvation. “Come and be saved,” he says. God bless you, my brother. I already am.

Because, I saw the signs.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Katy Mackay says:

    Beautiful, simply beautiful.

  2. George D. Jost says:

    I don’t know about the 7 of spades but the tent revivals in brooklyn are perennial, not common, but not rare. Perhaps when one is open, actually looking, one can see things not seen during the course of a regular day, a job day, a 9 to 5 day. Have no fear brave heart, sounds like you have been through much worse.
    Having just recently been on a vacation, where in fact I met you on 5th avenue, I know how natural it is to think, what if, why not, couldn’t I, when one is free of the ‘mind-numbing drudgery’ of the regular job, even if only for two weeks. And you, you are out there for eight long, glorious weeks. You may be ruined for corporate lackey-hood by the time you return.

    You may get lucky enough for that to not matter.

    I, on the other hand, continue to struggle on, in the trenches, of regular job. Not nearly brave enough to strike out on the open road.

    JW, you are out there for all of us, good luck,you are there.