Thursday, April 24, 2014

If the warning label makes sense you’re too far gone

The machine makes an awful noise, but it’s fun to play with. Ah, the paper shredder, an office worker’s version of a chainsaw.
The shredder was one of the last presents my mom gave me, although as a journalist I wasn’t quite sure what kind of papers I had that were important enough to shred. Certainly nothing to do with my finances, which mainly consisted of the change I had left over after I paid my bar tab.
Anything worth destroying I did the old fashioned way, I soaked it in gin and set it on fire.
But since then I got married and found my wife is averse to me setting fires in our yard. I’ve also discovered the paper shredder is a great way to destroy eviden… Uh, old tax documents. Yeah. Old tax documents.
Then, when recently destroying, uh, old tax documents, I saw something I’d never noticed before, a warning label, which is strange because it’s right on the top where you feed in the papers.
Hmm. A warning label on something called a “paper shredder” seems a bit superfluous. I mean, come on, the machine is called a shredder. SHREDDER. That’s the main villain from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” If you use this machine wrong it will roundhouse kick you in face. I thought that was understood.
But there it was.
“No jewelry.
“No paper clips.”
Sure, yeah. That would damage the machinery.
“No fingers.”
I thought we’d been over this. It’s called a shredder. It shreds things. That’s all it does. Why did the manufacturer feel it necessary to tell the operator not to stick his fingers into the shredder? The warning should read, “No cheese.” I hate using a cheese grater. This would save so much time.
“No neckties.”
First, the image is funny. Some guy leans over, his tie gets stuck in the shredder; it pulls him closer and closer to the Knives of Doom. He shrieks because he doesn’t realize his thumb is right next to the well marked “off” button. Oh, slapstick comedy, you’ve desensitized me so.
“No hair.”
See, “No neckties.”
This is where we sit today. On the shoulders of idiots. In what other country are there product labels warning you that you shouldn’t use a Vidal Sassoon hairdryer while sleeping, music lovers shouldn’t eat their iPod Shuffle (but it said Apple on the box), people who buy a Rowenta iron should never “iron clothes while they are being worn,” or pyromaniacs shouldn’t put Black Cat firecrackers “in mouth.”
The reason these warning labels aren’t funny (they are) is simple. Someone had to do every one of these things.
Fell asleep with a running hair dryer? Happened.
Swallowed an iPod? Happened.
Ironed clothes while wearing them? Heck, I’ve done it. In my defense, it’s not like I was ironing my pants. The article of clothing was a necktie, and I wasn’t inserting it into a paper shredder at the time.
Shoved ignited firecrackers into a mouth? Happened, most probably in Arkansas.
Political hacks, survivalists, and conspiracy theorists claim this country is seeing its last days. We are, but not from an impending apocalypse. It’s because we have people not smart enough to run a paper shredder.
My head hurts.

Jason Offutt’s latest book, “Across a Corn-Swept Land: An epic beer run through the Upper Midwest,” is available at