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I'm at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, wandering around in the typical airport daze, killing time before my flight. People wandering, some like ghosts, tagged and labeled baggage in front of them. I spend a lot of mental effort defending my pysche against the various ads and signs urging me to buy armloads of purfume, chocolate, electronics, sunglasses, and tobacco, before I get on the plane.

Every thirty seconds or so, there is an announcement of one kind or another about a flight that is boarding. Signs, endless layers of strategically colored signs lead me down space-age clean corridors. "Toilet" "Casino" "Currency Exchange." I look up and see a digital scrolling sign that says: "Stupid people shouldn't breed."


I look again. I definitely registered that phrase, but I've never seen signs of the style and placement discuss anything but bus schedules or new and exciting products and services -- much less such a bold statement.

This time, in large lite-brite letters, it reads: "Love for animals is often a substitute." I look around -- an instinctive reaction when I know something mischievous is being done. No one else seems to have noticed. This is where I start grinning.

I spend the next hour sitting in a departure lounge, in a spot where I can see the sign. I sit there for over an hour, and it never repeats itself. Every phrase is designed, I think, to be thought-provoking and controversial, if not downright offensive. No products are mentioned, no transit schedules clarified. It is just a long series of aphorisms, scrolling down as merrily as soccer scores, but pushing and prodding anyone who reads them into serious reflection.

Some of the gems:

There were poems, prophecies, long tirades about the glories and frustrations of revolution, and quips on life and love. If my pen hadn't run out, I would have more of them to share.

I never found out whether this was a prank, an officially sanctioned work of art, or something in between. Maybe the content was collected in some kind of survey. Maybe it was written in series, by one person, in order to produce a certain effect. Maybe I don't want to know -- the delight and surprise of sitting there, watching people go by, and watching it all scroll by, would have been ruined if I had known too much about where it came from.

If you're ever in Schiphol, make your way to the stairs between departure gates 2 and 3. I hope it's still there.

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