License-plate tales spelled out in book

January 20, 1994|By Ricky Young | Ricky Young,Orange County Register

A haiku has 17 syllables. A sonnet has 14 lines. And a California innovator has come up with a way to pack literature into an even tighter limit: seven letters.

GADZOOX!

Daniel Nussbaum of Silver Lake, Calif., has written a novelty book using nothing but vanity plates.

In it, he retells 24 stories, from "LILRED RIDING HOOD" to "ROMYOH ANNDE JULYET."

"All of these stories exist in California," Mr. Nussbaum said. "They're just scattered all over the freeways, and not very organized."

Most of us idle along, trying clumsily to decipher messages in one license plate at a time.

Mr. Nussbaum ordered six volumes of computer printouts of vanity plates from the Department of Motor Vehicles. He used them to write "PL8SPK," published by HarperCollins West.

The book exults in the NARLEE syntax and the BBBBBAD spelling of the roadways.

Mr. Nussbaum has broken new ground in license-plate literature, said Jeff Minard, author of "Who's Who Behind Personalized California License Plates."

"Most of these books are for car jocks, and they sell them in car washes," Mr. Minard said. "This is by far the most creative and most literary effort."

New Mexico state Sen. Michael Wiener, a collector with 30,000 plates, said Mr. Nussbaum takes the step from one-plate expression to a folkloric freeway message.

"It's the connective tissue of communiplates," Mr. Wiener said.

A native of New York, Mr. Nussbaum, 44, lived in California in the 1970s. "Back then, the plates all referred to cars," he said. "It was the 'LUVMYZ' era."

When he returned in 1989, he noticed a bumper crop of creativity.

"There was so much of a dialogue on the road," Mr. Nussbaum said. "The plates got very nasty, too:

DGENER8 and LOWIQ and UBUGLY."

Mr. Nussbaum has a short attention span, he said, and the quick-take frenzy of plate messages started to come together.

"People were coming up with these mini-literary masterpieces," he said. "It was a kind of language."

He calls the creativity state- mandated: No two people can have the same plate.

"That's why we have 159 different ways to say AWSOM," he said. "Only one person could spell it the accepted way, and 158 people had to be creative. They had to play with language."

Eve Rose of Agoura Hills saw the book this week. The plate belonging to her and her husband, ADMNEVE, appears in Mr. Nussbaum's Genesis.

"I can't wait to show it to Adam," she said.

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