Back in 1983, my brother Bob and I started a nice multi-level company called Sharex. It sold a dandy powdered milk replacer called Country Spring. If you were one of our thousands of distributors, you may still have a few cases a-moldering in your garage.

It was my task to write the package labeling, which was a piece of cake because the stuff mixed so easily that you couldn’t go wrong. Just add water, then shake, stir or whatever.

To dramatize how easy it was, I decided to spark up the mixing instructions with the usual light Rutz touch. I wrote on the label, “Mix in water with spoon, shovel or tennis racquet.” And for the chocolate version, I added the helpful suggestion of using an outboard motor.

Soon thereafter I began receiving official notices from various state food and drug offices, somberly admonishing me that they didn’t think it was a good idea to mix our stuff with outboards or racquets.

I never complied with any of their stone-faced suggestions – on the presumption that I was dealing with life forms too primitive to appreciate my substantial contribution to American commercial folklore.

I guess my snobbery brought down the wrath of God. Only seven years later, Sharex petered out, and my clever labeling literature passed quietly into history … but not before we printed a classy brochure for our multi-vitamin, The Right Stuff, which contained, among other things, cayenne. I wrote, “Cayenne, in addition to being the capital of Wyoming, is also a fine health supplement.”

This brought a rash of letters from tender souls taking pity on me for my dismal ignorance. Heck, I was just trying to relieve the tedium of running a sales firm that was gliding steadily downhill despite my Pulitzer-grade ad copy.

Alas, God has now zapped me with punishment a thousand times worse for my impertinence. Using “The Law of Unintended Consequences” (which I’m sure He invented just for me), the Lord has apparently leveraged my pioneering efforts in deliberate folderol to inspire a whole new generation of label writers who crank out such nonsense purely by accident, while asleep at their computers.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I have triggered a now-unstoppable avalanche of truly mindless labels, usually WARNING labels. I offer you today a mere sampling of some of the most vacuous efforts of our time, courtesy of and others:

“Do not eat if seal is missing” (a warning printed – where else? – on the seal).

“Not for human consumption” (on a package of dice).

“Do not drive cars in ocean” (in a TV ad showing a car in water).

“You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.” (on a Fritos bag) Obviously written by an idiot savant.

“No small children” (on an oversized Laundromat washer). These guys think only of themselves. What about the harried mother with six kids and a tight schedule?

“May be harmful if swallowed” (on a case of hammers).

“Remove the plastic wrapper” (the first instruction on a bag of microwave popcorn … which can only be seen after you remove the plastic wrapper).

“Do not look into laser with remaining eye” (on a laser pointer). Plainly, this outfit had a run of bad luck with their previous models.

“For indoor or outdoor use only” (on a string of Christmas lights). I guess that rules out using them on your underwater tree.

“Turn off motor before using this product” (on packaging for a chain saw file used to sharpen the chain’s cutting teeth).

“Do not drive with sunshield in place” (on a sunshield that blocks all light).

“Warning: Do not climb inside this bag and zip it up. Doing so will cause injury and death.” (on a storage bag measuring 6″ by 6″)

“Do not use while sleeping or unconscious” (on a hand-held massager). I’ll bet that stopped all those pesky lawsuits from people in comas.

“Warning: Has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice” (on a box of rat poison).

A special award for tail covering goes to this trio of winners:

“Not to be used in bathrooms” (on a Holmes Bathroom Heater).

“Do not recharge, put in backwards, or use” (on a battery).

“For use by trained personnel only” (on a can of air freshener).

Finally, I award the grand prize for this masterpiece: “Caution! Remove infant before folding for storage” (on a baby stroller). I can hear it now: “Hey Martha, you seen the kid lately?”

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