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February 19, 2024


By Cheryl Haimann

I'm just old enough to remember a time before product warnings. If you ate Silly Putty and it made you sick, then that was your clue that you should not eat Silly Putty in the future. If you went out for coffee at the end of a night's imbibing and sloshed hot coffee on yourself, you learned to be more careful about one or both of your drinking activities. There was no label telling you that the hair dryer you just bought, the one with the gigantic shower cap attached to a small car via five feet of plastic hose should not be used in standing water. Heck, even a door-to- door salesman took his chances, daily risking that he might be greeted by a woman wearing a flowered housecoat, her inflated hat tethering her to a Corvair.

Those days, of course, are long gone. Nothing is released into the marketplace without a lawyer tacking on a few liability-busting comments. Elderly men are now warned that their liquor will harm their fetuses. Parents are warned that the lyrics of bands with names like Dead Sexy Lemurs are not necessarily appropriate for the Barney-and-Teletubbies set. (Attention: Some parents might still want to weigh the comparative dangers on that one.) Being neither an elderly man nor the parent of a Barney wannabe, I can bypass these warnings with hardly a glance.

But now they've pushed the warning labels a little too far. The convenience store where I buy my fuels (gasoline and coffee, the latter helpfully marked, "Caution! This cup of hot beverage that you just squirted, steaming, out of a hot beverage machine may contain steamy hot liquid beverages!") has a new sign at the gas pumps. This new sign warns, "Do not re-enter car while fueling."

"Do not what?" I asked myself, purse in one hand, pump nozzle in one hand, and a dirty windshield begging for attention from another hand.

I read on to learn that slamming the door on my 93 Ford Escort during certain planetary alignments could cause a spark to jump from the door to the gas pump, touching off a complex series of chemical reactions, culminating in the release of heat and energy known scientifically as "A Really Big Boom."

I've been visiting gas stations my whole life. Even as a small child I hopped in an out of cars at will. I have yet to see a gas station explode. I did see a convenience store melt one time, but that was because the lumberyard next door was burning down. (Warning: Burning lumberyards may yield a by-product known as "a whole lotta smoke.") Heck, I've even seen guys smoke cigarettes while they gassed up, but even they never torched a Texaco. I admit I try to keep a distance from guys like that, though. I'm not that stupid.

The random spark thing doesn't even make sense to me. Apparently only my own car has the power to ignite my personal gas pump. The guy at the next pump slams his car door while I'm fueling, but his sparks know somehow that they aren't authorized to come to my side of the pump. On the other side, two teenagers are playing rap so loud that the bass is resynchronizing my heartbeat. I would think a noise that loud would vibrate a gas pump right off its foundation. Sparks aplenty when that happens, I bet.

On the other hand, things that really need warning labels are blissfully, even recklessly, ignored. I'm referring, of course, to television. Oh, they give us movie ratings, but not much else. I suspect Court TV is a hugely greater risk to my well being than the infinitesimal chance of spontaneously combusting a Quik Trip with my static cling. Wouldn't we all be better off with warnings like these?

--By purchasing the Amazing Lottery Number Selectomatic from this infomercial, you acknowledge that you are a chump with absolutely no understanding of statistics or human gullibility.
--Watching PBS on Sunday evening may result in occasional outbreaks of British accents.
--Our occasional use of the name "Music Television" in no way implies that you will find music programming on MTV.
--Do not watch the first three hours of the Oscar telecast while operating heavy machinery.
--This episode of Trading Spaces features the designs of Hildi Santo-Tomas. Side effects may include nausea, blurred vision, and loss of appetite.
--Remember, "Friends" have friends because they do something with their lives other than sitting around in their underwear, drinking beer and watching "Friends."

You've been warned.
Article © Cheryl Haimann. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-10-20
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