In the front yard of Steve Hoffman’s Takoma Park house are two signs that read, “Say NO to Yard Signs.” This message, a line at the bottom explains, is brought to you by People Against Placards, Mid-Atlantic Chapter.
They are yard signs against yard signs.
Somewhere, Rene Magritte — the Belgian surrealist who painted a picture of a tobacco pipe and labeled it “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (French for “This is not a pipe”) — is smiling.
We’re coming up on yard-sign season in America. Already they’re sprouting like mushrooms after a rain. In Takoma Park these days, you’re never more than 10 feet from a Jamie-Raskin-for-Congress sign or a Say-No-to-Evil-Developers sign.
Eyesores? Free expression? Lively debate? Steve doesn’t actually care.
“At a formative age in my life, I used to read Mad magazine,” he said on a recent afternoon. That hallowed humor publication has informed Steve’s way of looking at things: with eyes that are slightly skewed.
Steve went on the Web, found a company that makes yard signs and used its design tool to slap his tongue-in-cheek message on a standard template. It was about 70 bucks for four signs.
Passersby sometimes stop and take photographs.
Steve is 60ish, a former lawyer. (“People say lawyers are awful, but you should see the clients,” he said.) He now runs a DJ business, entertaining crowds at weddings and other gatherings. He also programs blues music for WPFW (89.3 FM).
Steve has lived in Takoma Park for 23 years. His stuccoed house is painted a bright blue, a color inspired by the color of the cartoon sky in “The Simpsons.” A plaque on his porch reads, “On this site in 1897 nothing happened.” Steve has a flock of pink plastic flamingos in his front yard.
“The flamingos thing is a separate thing [from the anti-yard-sign yard sign],” Steve said. “I always knew when I owned my own house, I’d have flamingos in it.”
Steve said: “That’s one thing I absolutely love about Takoma Park. People can really be colorful in their front yards.”
There’s a totem pole down Steve’s street, Tulip Avenue. A porch on the block is home to a massive drinking bird, a Brobdingnagian version of that novelty that sips from a glass.
These displays seem like physical reminders of Takoma Park’s reputation: liberal, creative, hippy-ish — the People’s Republic of Takoma Park. Who, Steve wondered, would want to live in a cookie-cutter suburb where there are rules about the color of your shutters?
As I crouched to take a photo of Steve next to his sign, a gray-haired man walking down the sidewalk stopped and asked him, “You running for something?”
“No,” Steve said, but he joked that he ought to run for mayor with the promise that he wouldn’t do anything.
This was the opening the other man needed to launch into his criticism of the town. “My wife loves it here, but I hate it,” he said.
Takoma Park, he said, was an example of the pitfalls of well-intentioned social engineering. There was something dangerous, he said, in trying to mandate good, to force it upon the populace, to build dog parks when not everyone wanted them.
You know who else started out with good intentions? he asked. The Germans. And look what happened there.
“I’m sorry, but when you start comparing Takoma Park to Nazi Germany you’ve lost me,” Steve said.
Where were we? Oh that’s right: “Say NO to Yard Signs.” It’s a joke, folks.
Jimmy Betts is making music again.
I wrote about Jimmy in June, when the Nebraska anti-fracking activist’s cross-country trek brought him to Washington. While he was here, someone broke into his car and stole his fiddle, an instrument that had accompanied Jimmy as he walked across the United States on the Great Climate March.
The police never found Jimmy’s fiddle, but an Alexandria reader was moved by his plight. He donated $600 so Jimmy could get a new instrument, hand-built by a company called KC Fiddles.
“When you give and donate and participate, it feels good. It’s like a win-win,” said the donor, who asked to remain anonymous.
Jimmy said he’s going to learn to play the Grateful Dead song “Ripple” on the fiddle. He’s due back in Washington this week to start a fast in front of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters.
It is tradition to name a giant panda cub 100 days after its birth. That means we have some time to convince the National Zoo that the new cub should be named Elvis, in honor of Elvis Presley. The reasons are myriad. Here’s another, from the District’s Peggy Robin: Like Elvis Presley, the panda cub is a country boy who loves his mother but is completely surrounded by his managers.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.