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Warning! Warning!

The Signs of life



My company’s home inspection reports are now about 20 percent warnings. By the turn of the century, I figure the warning content will be up to 80 percent.

I’m not bragging. I don’t like being the warning police. To my personal way of thinking, this country could do with a whole lot fewer warnings. I want everybody to have a nice day, but the hard truth is that a person who needs to be warned not to fall down stairs, or slam his fingers in windows, or stick his feet under a lawn mower is just going to have a difficult life, no matter what. You just can’t un-jinx some people.

There’s no chance that everybody will suddenly see things my way. This warning epidemic is way bigger than me. America’s simple commerce has been seized by the dark force of personal injury lawsuits.

How else do you explain this, from a bottle of 7Up: WARNING. Contents under pressure. Cap may blow off causing eye or other serious injury. Point away from people, especially while opening.

Well, yeah, especially while opening. That’s the Criticality One period, right up there with defusing an anthrax bomb. Once you get that tricky opening part out of the way, you can breathe a little easier, but you still wouldn’t want to point your 7Up right at somebody. Because if the 7Up folks can be taken at their word, if you carelessly discharge your soda and the cap manages to miss all the eyeballs in the area, some poor soul could still suffer some “other serious injury.” I get all weak-kneed just thinking about it.

It’s a wonder anybody lives to reproductive age.

On the other hand, it wasn’t long ago that adult Americans walked right into stores and bought lawn darts for their kids. Lessee, a great big metal-tipped dart that any kid could hurl way up into the air, where it would flip point-down and land with enough force to burrow deep into the earth. ’Scuse me, but couldn’t anybody with a thimbleful of brains figure out that these things were just a little less dangerous than anti-personnel mines? Where were the warning police when we needed them?

As much as it rubs me the wrong way, I hand out warnings like Mardi Gras beads. Shoot, lawyers walk among us. And the irony is, a whole lot of people don’t even want to be warned. “What do you mean, people have been killed by garage doors?” they ask me. Well, sorry, it’s true. Those motor-driven automatic garage doors are big slow-motion guillotines. They can do a lot of damage. Put a cantaloupe under one sometime and think skull.

Those attic pull-down stairs are also deathtraps. Just about every one I see is out of alignment (due to careless carpentry) and missing about half its nuts and bolts. The new ones come with big orange tags that say, WARNING WARNING WARNING, and then explain all the ways an innocent person just trying to stow the plastic Christmas tree can end up in the intensive care unit.

Even insulation can get you. Right now today, in the bonus rooms of Williamson County, Owens-Corning pink fiberglass insulation is installed with the paper vapor barrier facing out. This in spite of the big red words, printed right on the insulation, that explain that paper will burn. Owens Corning’s lawyers want installers to know: Their specification calls for the paper vapor barrier to be covered with a fire-resistant material. Expose it at your own risk; don’t come crying to them if your insulation catches fire.

Here in the land of natural gas, most furnaces and hot water heaters have a metal flue pipe with these words embossed on the pipe itself: One inch minimum clearance to combustible materials. About half of these pipes are butted right up to wood or some of that deadly paper vapor barrier. Every day, I have to explain to somebody: “Yes, the flue pipe has been touching that roof deck for 10 years, and the house has not burned down. No, I can’t tell you it’s OK. You can read the pipe yourself.”

Getting up in the morning can kill you. (Coffee scald.) Staying in bed is even worse. (You could smother amongst the pillows.) Just reading this could give you eyestrain, and you could walk into a lamppost. Walter says be careful. Really, I mean it.

Walter Jowers can be reached at Walter.Jowers@nashville.com.

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