In these shoes? You’ve got to be kidding

I’m exhausted. And reviled. So many people hate me.

Not all over Ipswich, thank God. At least that I know of. But at the moment, what I’m talking about is, mainly, just in one certain neighborhood.

To all of you who live there: My apologies. I didn’t mean to be so annoying. Honestly, I was only trying to be a good citizen, a good person, etc.

But it went awry. I’m so sorry.

How it happened, I can hardly reconstruct it.

I frequently do business in a downtown establishment situated upstairs in a two-story building, and some time ago, a sign went up in the doorway:

“Leave wet shoes downstairs.”

I wanted to comply. Really I did. I’m not one of those automatically petulant anti-authoritarian types, ranting at the imposition of every new regulation, concocting fantasies of conspiracies, like black helicopters hovering over your house to videotape your secret conversations about Joe Biden’s Botox injections and sending the transcripts to the IRS so you’ll get audited every year and charged extra.

On the contrary, when I saw the “Leave wet shoes downstairs” sign, my first thought was one of obedience: Of course I’ll leave wet shoes downstairs.

Perhaps I didn’t understand?

I believe a sign should be clear, concise, and necessary. It’s not easy to craft a sign that meets these criteria. Many signs are clear and necessary but not exactly concise. Instead, they’re overly wordy. (Actually, the phrase overly wordy is itself wordy. See how hard this is?)

Actors backstage come to a door labeled “Stage Door.” It’s clearly a door; why does the door have to say “I’m a door”? The sign on the door could just say “Stage,” and I guarantee you, every actor would still make their cue. Theatre groups are always desperate for money, right? Well, stop painting “Door” on backstage doors, and theatre groups will save millions on their paint budgets alone.

Unclear, wordy, and unnecessary signage occurs in many places, but I’m afraid there’s a concentration of such signage in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Drive through Ipswich and tell me if you don’t find a plethora of unclear, wordy, and unnecessary signage.

(Just one example: A puzzling bright-red sign on High Street declares: “The Old North Burying Ground was founded in 1634. It is one of the oldest in the country.” If you’re walking west on High Street and you miss the turn-off for the cemetery, it’s a full three minutes before you come to this incredibly longwinded bright-red sign — oddly positioned on the opposite side of the road — offering its mini-history of the landmark you recently failed to notice, yet without directions for finding it somewhere back there.)

So — on the door of the establishment I frequent, in downtown Ipswich — I took the sign at face value: “Leave wet shoes downstairs.”

Now, here I am, hours past my deadline for turning in a column for the paper, and still paralyzed.

I have gone door to door, pitifully, and I have yet to find anyone who will help me.

  • “Sorry, but do you have any wet shoes I could borrow?”
  • “Sorry to bother you, but I’m trying to get into that place over there, and to get in, I need to leave some wet shoes…?”
  • “I’m sorry, I don’t know why they require wet shoes. Maybe it’s some funky charity?”

I really don’t know how I got into this mess. But I realize that lots of people who live downtown are fed up with me. It’s possible that more than one of them has filed for a restraining order.

I’m sorry, truly. 

On the other hand, my life isn’t over, I can assure you of that. Do not despair for me. By the time you read this, I’ve managed to move on. I’m down the street.

Yes, there’s another sign here. It says STOP. But no worries. As soon as it says “GO,” I’m outa here.

Doug Brendel was an English major, but that hardly seems possible now. Follow Doug’s post-English-major work at

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