Though my regular column has been suspended during the pandemic, we’ve decided to run some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally ran in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many will be humor columns. In times like these, we need humor more than ever. – Tim
Most Americans believe they belong to one of the best educated and most intelligent societies in the world.
This revelation came to me during a recent shopping trip.
Silly me, I’d always thought that the people of the one of the greatest nations on earth were capable of making it through the day without outside help. There would always be those who would have trouble concentrating and breathing at the same time, of course, but the population as a whole had struck me as being of at least average mental ability.
It took that shopping trip to make me realize how wrong I was.
The source of my enlightenment was my daughter’s new hair crimper. The directions that accompanied it included the usual safety warnings – “unplug after using, keep away from water, do not leave unattended,” etc.
Then, the thunderbolt.
“DO NOT CRIMP HAIR WHILE SLEEPING.”
They couldn’t be serious. What kind of pinhead would try to use a hair crimper (or any other electrical appliance) while sleeping?
Presently it occurred to me that they were in fact serious. If you think about who writes safety instructions, it makes perfect sense. The people who write safety instructions are lawyers. Their job is to assure that every conceivable hazard is addressed, getting manufacturers off the hook in case of a lawsuit.
So, somewhere in this country is a firm of well-educated, successful, presumably bright attorneys who believe that there are people witless enough to injure themselves while trying to crimp their hair while fast asleep. Worse, they think there are enough of them to justify warnings in safety manuals.
Curious, I checked out the directions for some other household items.
The directions for my electric razor were relatively conventional – unplug before cleaning, do not use with defective plug, etc. – with the exception of number two:
“Do not use in the shower.”
Of course! Who hasn’t experienced a frantic desire to jump in the shower with an electric razor, turn on the razor and shower at the same time and be transformed into a memorial fountain? I’ve suffered from this obsession for years. Only superior willpower allows me to rise above it.
The same goes for the package of silica gel I found in a shoebox. Printed on the package were a skull and crossbones and the words, “Do not eat.”
It’s a good thing that warning was there or I’d have devoured the package and its contents on the spot. Silica gel is one of my favorite delicacies, along with floppy disks and styrofoam packing balls.
My favorite set of directions came with a portable radio. The first instruction: “Read instructions.” Next, “Retain instructions.” Having read and retained the instructions, the owner is advised to “heed instructions.” Then (just in case), he or she is warned to “follow instructions.”
A presidential contender recently was quoted as saying the country “lacked direction.”
He must not be able to read.