Arthur in the Big City

Arthur stopped in his tracks and slowly tilted his head back, forcing a stream of businessmen to move hastily out of his way. A surprise met him on his daily routine. Everyday Arthur would walk around his city, usually in the morning, scrupulously monitoring every sidewalk, building, bus stop, light pole, garage door, chain like fence and store front for new advertisements.
In a mysteriously collective and synchronized fashion, the city always updated its empty spaces with new ads during the wee hours of every Monday morning. Arthur usually memorized all the advertisements by Sunday night when it was time for a fresh installment. He did this by dividing the streets into a grid pattern and scouting each sector, depending—with some pride—solely on his philosophy of disciplined attentiveness. No matter what emotion the ad roused in him at first glance, he would digest every image with patience and meditate for great lengths of time on every phrase.
What surprised Arthur was that—on a Sunday afternoon—after a full week to realize every billboard, he somehow missed one.  Arthur felt a strange urge to locate the ad’s shadow and place himself in the center of it before allowing himself to look at it. After scanning the cement, Arthur found the rectangular area; it framed the exit of an underground transit station almost perfectly.  It was a bright day with only a few smudges of gray overcast in the sky, yet Arthur distinctively felt the chill from the billboard’s shadow on the backs of his hands and in his nostrils as he inhaled air through his nose.
Arthur felt secure in the shade, as if the barely noticeable box shape was a force field blocking out all the unpredictable organic figures of pedestrians that scurried past him. He was happy in spite of his self-imposed isolation. A chubby kid wearing a propped up A’s baseball hat mimicked Arthur’s intent stare to the great satisfaction of a group of teenagers who stood nearby.
Arthur didn’t notice the people around him. He was too pleased to see that the billboard used his favorite style of advertising: the rhetorical question.
“Are you connected?” After studying many different types of ads, Arthur learned how to avoid looking at the brand name before first contemplating the message of the ad in his mind. He believed a person should take feely whatever message the ad was offering before seeing who wants you to take it. That was the only method for an impartial participant in the dialogue as a whole.
“I am connected to you,” Arthur responded in his mind to the father in the ad who stood slightly ahead of his family with an outstretched arm, offering the viewer his own cell phone.
This message reaffirmed Arthur’s belief in the cultural brilliance of the advertising industry; it was always forcing the observer to question personal assumptions about happiness and the ignorance that allows for a false sense of everyday satisfaction. The white noise from people walking straight past the ad without taking the time to observe it made Arthur feel sad. “Are they connected?” Arthur wondered about the crowd.
Arthur’s train of thought came to a halt when he blurted out the word “PISS.” It was as if his mind was warning him beforehand of the smell he was about to realize. He looked down and discovered that he had been standing in a pool of stagnant urine.


  1. Mallory

    this is so good trav, i really like imagery of the billboard casting a shadow onto the subway exit.
    so good!

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