I woke up in the middle of the night with something tickling my mouth and nose, and it was neither my spouse nor my dog. It was the tag attached to my new Tempur-Pedic pillow. In a fit of semi-conciousness I ripped the tag off and went back to sleep.
I awoke in the morning to see the tag on my nightstand, saying in large, threatening type, “Do not remove under penalty of law.” It wasn’t until I thrashed around for my glasses I could see in teeny type, the added “except by the consumer.”
By nature, I’m a compliant sort. So frankly, while I never thought much about pillow and mattress tags warning me not to remove them, I never removed them, either. I’m sure that in the back of my mind I wondered if I’d ever be arrested for felony tag removal.
So I researched this. I am happy to report that even though I’ve defaced a throw pillow or two in my day, I was never in danger of waking up with Mariska Hargitay in my face (although I would have liked that. ) But now I was curious who the warning was meant to warn. It seemed so urgent.
As I guessed, but was never certain, the warning is not for those of us sleeping with these pillows and mattress and routinely having to spit out crinkly tags. They are for the pillow and mattress sellers only.
Continuing my research, I discovered that the purpose is to inform the consumer of the hidden filler materials inside bedding and furniture. The law mandating these goes back to the early 1900s to prevent these articles from being manufactured with specious contents such as horse hair, corn husks, garbanzo beans or worse. Because nobody wants to snuggle with horsehair or corn husks.
But I believe that people have been confused by these labels for years, because the wording “except by the consumer” was not added until many decades after the labels appeared, and, as we know, people don’t often bother to read stuff (hoping this column is an exception).
Indeed, it made me think about why I dislike labels. Not in the fashionable sense of disliking the labels representing LGBTQ or whatever other alphabet letter is next to get annexed, but labels in general.
Just coincidentally, later that same morning I got on a ladder in my shed, to reach some old tax returns. Holy Cow. There were more warning labels on that ladder than bumper stickers on a 1970 Volkswagen bus. Have you seen a ladder lately? I can only imagine the litigation that prompted one six-foot ladder to sport the following labels, some with little stick figure illustrations:
- CAUTION: KEEP BODY CENTERED BETWEEN SIDE RAILS: There was a stick figure leaning in a position my body, never mind a contortionist’s, will never go.
- DO NOT OVER-REACH: I don’t even know what this means, unless it’s talking about me over-reaching for a pun or something.
- DO NOT CLIMB, STAND OR SIT ABOVE SECOND STEP FROM TOP: Are the top steps just decorative?
- MAKE SURE LADDER IS FULLY OPEN AND SPREADERS LOCKED: I’m speechless. Or, to be literal, typeless.
- SET ALL FEET ON FIRM, LEVEL SURFACE: My feet or the ladder’s? My feet are so ugly, the drawing could apply to both.
- DO NOT PLACE IN FRONT OF UNLOCKED DOORS: I can see the lawsuit that prompted this warning. “Honey, I’m home! Um…hello, 9-1-1?
- FACE LADDER WHEN CLIMBING, USE BOTH HANDS AND DO NOT CARRY OBJECTS IN YOUR HANDS: So much for me climbing up with a Cosmo in one hand and paintbrush in the other. But how would you get the paint can to the top of the ladder without your hands? Helicopter?
- GET DOWN AND MOVE LADDER AS NEEDED: Is there an alternative? The Think system?
- DO NOT SIT ATOP AND STRADDLE FRONT AND BACK: It is not a horse.
- DO NOT CLIMB FROM ONE LADDER TO ANOTHER: Unless your name is Wallenda.
- DO NOT SHIFT LADDER WHILE ON IT: You mean like into second gear?
- NEVER PLACE LADDER ON OTHER OBJECTS SUCH AS BOXES, SCAFFOLDS OR OTHER UNSTABLE BASES TO OBTAIN ADDITIONAL HEIGHT: my imagination runs away…
Seriously, I spent at least an hour marveling at the incredible amount of labeling on a single ladder and it distracted me nicely from my task. When I did get the paperwork down, I took it directly to my office for shredding. OMG. The warning labels on the shredder were just as bad! They were all little graphics with the international NO sign on it—the circle with a slash through it. I think they meant:
- Do not dangle long hair or spaghetti in shredder.
- Don’t ever wear a tie.
- No manicures or if the glove doesn’t fit you must acquit.
It’s enough to make me give up my tasks and take a nap. But first, under penalty of law, I’ll rip the remaining labels off my pillows. See you on Orange is the New Black.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries, and her newest book Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach.