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Spontaneously Noticing Things Can Be a Blessing and a Curse

I’ve lived in NYC for nearly 37 years now, and I’ve almost certainly walked on 34th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in Manhattan dozens of times, maybe hundreds of times, during that span. It’s the block I usually take to get to Madison Square Garden or Penn Station after exiting the subway.

While walking down that block last Saturday, however (sure enough, going to Penn Station so I could take a train to New Jersey), I saw something I somehow hadn’t noticed before: The apostrophe in the gold “Macy’s” lettering on the side of the retailer’s flagship store isn’t centered between the “y” and the “s.” As you can see in the photo above, it’s closer to the “s.”

I’m not sure how this glitch never jumped out at me before, since it’s exactly the sort of thing I typically notice. But once I saw it, it was deeply vexing. All of the other letters are evenly spaced — each one is centered within its window with a blank window in between each pair of letters — so why not the apostrophe?

Sure, you could argue that the apostrophe, as a teeny mark of punctuation, shouldn’t merit as much space on each side as a full-blown letter. But that’s not the point — however much space the apostrophe gets, it should be centered between the “y” and the “s.” Why didn’t they do that? Grrrrrr.

Having a radar for this kind of thing is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s given me the career that I have; on the other hand, it can sometimes be annoying — not just for me, but for the people around me. The day after I spotted the Macy’s apostrophe issue, for example, E and I were stopped at a red light in New Jersey when I spotted something odd and insisted on taking a photo of it through the windshield of E’s car:

The obviously weird thing here is the red street sign. I’m used to seeing green, white, or even brown, but I don’t think I’ve seen red before. But I was more interested in the less obviously weird thing, namely that the two “One Way” signs have slightly different designs. The one in the foreground clearly has larger type (and not just because it’s in the foreground). I’m not sure why a street would need two “One Way” signs in such close proximity to begin with, but it’s strange that they don’t quite match. “One Way” two ways!

As you can see, that last photo is a bit blurry. I wanted to get another shot, but E was like, “Paul, the light’s turning green, we have to go.”

Later that day, E and I attended a flea market. We ended up parking in a field with a big puddle:

I insisted on taking a photo of the puddle because it looked — at least to me — like a manta ray gliding majestically through the ocean. I mean, it does, doesn’t it?

Incidentally, I ended up getting a couple of cool items at that flea market. More on that soon.

Comments (35)

    Re Macy’s: It looks like they move these letters around as needed. Look at the placement here, from Christmas 2020:


    Here the “S” is closer to the rest of the word, and the apostrophe is immediately adjacent to it.

    We will all miss your meticulous attention to detail…


    Paul’s talking about the lettering on the 34th Street side of the building. Your view is a different set of lettering on the Broadway side.

    For what it’s worth, I see a common stingray, with its more visually prominent, relatively-to-body-size thicker tail, in the puddle, not a manta. But the common ray also glides most majestically.

    Oddly enough, the apostrophe being offset a little bit looks right to me, since in a line of type it is almost superscripted. It’s like they accounted for that with the offset.

    My first thought was that the puddle looks like an acoustic guitar, but the neck is too narrow.

    The red street sign reminds me of the red road signs that used to be at the entrance to Cleveland Hopkins Airport. In my memory, they looked like normal highway signs with the Highway Gothic font, but red instead of green. As a kid I thought the color must have meant something. Unfortunately I can’t find a picture now.

    In Hilliard, Ohio, the street signs are blue! It’s a quick way of telling Hilliard proper apart from Columbus or Norwich Township, which at least partially are in the footprint of the Hilliard City School District.


    We also have blue street signs in various localities in South Jersey.
    My son lives in Hilliard for a year – nice town!

    Bridgeport, CT also has blue signs, which stands out since most other towns have green, and maybe a few with brown.

    Lifelong South Jerseyite and we have red street signs in some towns. Haddon Township comes to mind. In fact, with our population density and an overabundance of small towns and boroughs, the only way you can tell one town from another is the color of the street signs. (Many of our townships were broken up between 1880-1920 for insanely petty reasons.)

    I suppose one could (did) argue the apostrophe should be in the center window in the photo Paul took, and I would agree, since that would make it centered between the letters. However, if you look at the Macy’s logo itself, the way the (star) apostrophe is positioned, its center is slightly to the right of the Y and almost in the center of the S. Even though in the logo it’s above, rather than between the letters, you might also argue in the windows, it *should* be closer to the S rather than equidistant to make it more similar to the logo. OK, I’m just making crap up now.

    Three things I found out googling:

    1. It looks like all of Bloomfield, NJ uses red signs
    2. It appears to have always been that way, the city replaced its signs in 2019 with new red signs
    3. Its offside the MUTCD (which requires white, brown or green backgrounds) and nobody seems to care

    On the Macy’s apostrophe, my initial thought was that “if Paul never noticed this before, maybe the lettering was moved at some point”. But looking at Google Street View data, the current placement looks to be consistent at least since 2011. Weird!

    The last time I saw it, there was a star evenly placed between the Y and S… unless I’m misremembering it.

    A career founded on an unwanted personality trait is nothing new. Charlie Schulz’s family begged him to see a psychologist, but he demurred; he posited that if he were cured, he’d have nothing to write about.

    I would assume the differences in the One Way sign has to do with the age of the sign and the code in place at the time. Most governments follow the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).


    These are the kinds of pieces I’ll really miss after you step away Paul! Seriously, I mean that. I often notice the same sorts of details, so I really appreciate these types of posts.

    I am so OCD about things being centered/symmetrical that the Macy’s thing would drive me crazy!!!! LOL

    Many of us have similar observational traits, but you have an outlet for it. I just bore my wife with mine. I hope you don’t miss this too much.

    There is a city near me that has black street signs with gold lettering. In fact, they require every sign in the city (restaurant, store, etc) to have gold lettering on a black background. However, they have made exceptions for Chase Bank and Mobil.

    In the city of Bloomfield Hills, MI, not only are the street signs black with gold lettering, but they actually have an ordinance that requires ALL signage for businesses, churches, schools, etc., to be the same black with gold. Not that you’ll see a McDonald’s, but there are other franchises in town that have to forsake their design colors – and usually the logo – for a wordmark in black and gold.

    I actually prefer the spacing on the apostrophe, being smaller the sizing more fits the smaller window and apostrophes are rarely centered. I would move it closer to the Y than the S however.

    As for the puddle my first thought was of a shovel and a bit of a meta sense of enjoying a hole shaped like a tool to make a hole

    apostrophes are rarely centered…

    Actually, apostrophes are indeed centered for mono-spaced typefaces, which is what this sign essentially is. Every character occupies the same space … except the apostrophe.

    Did anyone pause to look at the picture first before reading what Paul noticed? I was two for three (I saw a guitar rather than a manta ray as well)

    LOL, I saw the picture of the street signs, and then the next paragraph started “The obviously weird thing here is the red street sign…” and I’m thinking to myself “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TWO DIFFERENT ONE WAY SIGNS?!?!?!”

    I used to work for a sign manufacturer, so I can hopefully shed some light on these.
    First the street signs – we carried standard red, green, blue, white and brown. Different municipalities sometimes use varying colors. Some large companies, like Exxon, would buy white signs with blue lettering to mark their “streets” in their ungodly large refineries. The more interesting thing here is their custom post, it doesn’t look like a standard U-Channel post like the one way signs, and even has a little topper on it.

    Secondly, on the One Way – believe it or not a lot of companies actually trademark variations of common signs. So some signs may not look different, but the font or stroke, or the arrow shape size may alter slightly among companies. This here is a HUGE variation, but the simple answer is, the city bought one way signs from 2 different manufacturers, who have 2 different trademarks.

    I think that puddle looks like the state of New Jersey. Although the Jets and Giants would say it looks like New York.

    “Having a radar for this kind of thing is a mixed blessing. ”

    People who do home improvement work coined a phrase for that, it’s called The Painters Eye…
    That’s where every flaw and lazy shortcut is glaring while most people don’t “see” the difference…

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