Novelists Can't Stop Writing About Crappy Foot-Clinic Sign

Published: 2011-05-11 10:23:42
Author: Tim Nudd

  What is it about the rotating Sunset Foot Clinic podiatry sign on West Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, situated in a no man's land between Silver Lake and Echo Park, that so fascinates people—particularly artists and writers? On one side of the sign is a sad foot on crutches (in "biological turmoil," as LA Weekly once put it); on the other side is a happy foot in sneakers giving a thumbs-up. It's absolute dreck, but perhaps so bad it's good—even inspirational. AsLaura Miller points out on Salon.com, Jonathan Lethem wrote about the sign in his 2007 novel You Don't Love Me Yet. The main character, who can see the sign from her apartment window, makes decisions based on which side of it she sees at a glance. Now, the sign has apparently shown up in David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel The Pale King, too. He relocates it to Chicago and gives it similar power over some students, who see it from their dorm room and make decisions based on it. The musician Beck also supposedly has been obsessed with it. Lethem wonderfully calls the sign "a non-Internet meme," locally famous if not exactly loved. "When I was researching my novel," he tells Miller, "I visited L.A., and at one point I was driving down Sunset Boulevard with someone who'd agreed to be a source on the area. I laid eyes on the sign, and asked about it, and that's when the Happy Foot/Sad Foot lore was unfolded for me." Silent fortune-teller or just shitty advertisement, the sign clearly holds some kind of sway. Lethem, for one, thinks other writers need to embrace it in their work, too. "It would be nice to see it become universal," he says. 

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