It’s a sign

Two days ago our friends and neighbors posted a story about this sign a few blocks from our house. It is a sign any Silver Laker will know if you ask them. From its highly-visible perch on Sunset Boulevard, the sign slowly spins, presenting you, the viewer, with two possible podiatriatic scenarios that will surely entice you to become a patient of the Foot Clinic: a Happy Foot or a Sad Foot.

For our friends and neighbors the Homegrowns—who are better known as Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, and have the most badass backyard farm one has ever seen (Here’s a photo of Erik and Kelly. Here are their chickens.)—the sign serves as a landmark to tell people where to turn to get to their house. But it also serves as a kind of “divination system”: If you are approaching the sign and see the happy foot first, it will be a good day. But if you see the sad foot, its bruised red eyes and bandaged toe hobbling toward you on little foot-crutches, then it will be a bad day.

The sign is famous for this talent.

It was featured in the Jonathan Lethem book You Don’t Love Me Yet:

Lucinda’s view took in a three quarter’s slice of the sign as it turned in its vigil over Sunset Boulevard: happy foot and sad foot suspended in dialog forever. The two images presented not so much a one-or-the-other choice as an eternal marriage of opposites, the emblem of some ancient foot-based philosophical system. This was Lucinda’s oracle: once glance to pick out the sad or happy foot, and a coin was flipped, to legislate any decision she’d delegated to the foot god.

There’s a song called “Sad Foot Sign” by the Eels:

Sad foot sign/Why you gotta taunt me this way?/The happy side is broken now/It’s gonna be an awful day

And the cartoonist Mike Hollingsworth even used the Happy/Sad Foot as a character in an animated video (if you look in the comments of this video, someone also says they designed the original sign).

I raced down there yesterday morning (on my own mostly-happy feet) so I could watch its slow rotation, keeping watch over the neighborhood. As soon as I stepped onto Sunset, however, I could see from several blocks away that it wasn’t spinning. It was broken, its Sad Foot forever staring down the westbound lanes, Happy Foot looking defiantly into the morning sun.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. When it stopped spinning earlier this year, the blog Curbed wrote a post about it. The sign has become such a part of our daily lives that the fact it had stopped its daily revolution prompted a whopping 31 comments from readers. Then, when I saw it back in the spin of things weeks later, I posted a triumphant Tweet in response to @CurbedLA: “Happy Foot Sad Foot is spinning once again!”

As I stood there on an early Thursday, with people steering dogs around me, I realized that for me, the two graphics of the Happy Foot/Sad Foot don’t serve as an good day/bad day omen as much as its revolution, its motion, bodes well for, well, everything else on that street. If it’s spinning, Silver Lake is safe, protected from crafty developers and concrete bunkers and soulless signage. If it’s not spinning, the neighborhood starts to crumble beneath me, and I walk home with a heavy heart. Like my heart’s on little heart-crutches with my arteries wrapped around them.

Happy feet

These moments of common culture, of shared experience, among those of us who live nearby are all very precious as tenants move, buildings are demolished, and entire blocks are upended in a matter of weeks. Kelly mentions something very poignant about the fleeting nature of our landmarks in one of her comments:

“In the old days it might have been a statue or the village oak or something. The only problem, of course, is that now our icons are privately owned, and can vanish overnight. We worry about The Foot.”

I worry, too. I worry that one day I will be zipping by on the bus and the Foot Clinic will finally decide that maybe it does need to include an area code to preface its phone number. I worry that as I come around the corner the sign will be entangled with a cherry picker and I will have to chain myself to it to prevent its demise. I worry that one day, after my Kickstarter campaign to save it fails, I will have to buy the sign and install it in my own yard. Is it not crazy to worry about a sign so much?

Back on the internet I left a note for my neighbor, posting a comment complimenting Kelly on her story and saying what Keith and I always say as we pass by the sign: That it would make an amazing Halloween costume.

But here’s the most absolutely wonderful thing about the interlaced, interwebbed, interconnected, local-global world in which we live. Kelly’s story was posted on Boing Boing, and the comments started to pour in. And someone, who we know only as pundog, posted this:

So maybe the Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign, spinning or not, makes wishes come true.

Update: My awesome friends Jade and Margaret have alerted me about another Happy Foot/Sad Foot Halloween costume:

Is this officially a meme?

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  • J Ryan


    Another wonderful piece of modern local history, Alissa.

    Saw the pictured guy in costume at the Halloween party on Apex. There were some impressive costumes there that night but this guy was my favorite. Sadly, I've no idea who he is.

    J. Ryan

  • Alissa

    Thanks, J. Ryan! I *love* that you saw him at a Halloween party! Even more proof that our little city is so interconnected…and so tiny…

  • brandon

    this sign is so iconic. people in advertising need to take note, i mean, this is memorable. growing up in LA, the image of the happy/sad foot will always be burned into my nostalgic consciousness. It almost convinces you that you have foot problems, when you feel fine. nice piece alissa

  • Lyzard13

    I live in Sylmar and admit that in my travels down Sunset I have never seen Happy Foot/Sad Foot. This makes me sad, as I love things like that. I hope it will begin to spin again so I can see it working!

  • Alissa

    So true, Brandon, the sign really is an example of great graphic design. It clearly, and memorably, shows the benefit of the Foot Clinic!

  • Pundog

    Hey! I'm Pundog — that's me dressed as Happy Foot/Sad Foot from this Halloween! A friend just found this and showed it to me on Facebook… so yes, crazy how this interwebbed, interlaced, interconnected world works.

    Great story, and it's awesome to see the foot sign getting some much-deserved love…


  • Alissa

    Pundog! Thanks for commenting, and I hope you check out the other HaFo/SaFo costume above that I just added! We should have a convention.

  • Pundog

    Awesome. I love how different our costume interpretations are.

    What's more exciting is, I see in J. Ryan's comment below, he spotted me at a Halloween party on Apex — well, I wasn't at that party (I don't think!), so that means there's at least ONE MORE Happy Foot/Sad Foot out there in the world… we must find him!

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  • maria

    These people are my heroes – best costume ever

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