I was out on the patio the other day wondering (as writers of conservative opinion pieces constantly do) what's wrong with America. I noticed a tag affixed to my collapsible canvas deck chair, and my wondering ceased. What's wrong with America was printed on the tag:
--Do not attempt to lift the front end of the chair while sitting down on it.
Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that chair manufacturers feel compelled to tell Americans this. You'd flip over and whack your head on the concrete. Yet millions of Americans must sit themselves down, spread their knees, grasp their seats, and give themselves a tremendous backwards yank. How else but whacked heads to explain myspace.com, Hillary Clinton's positive poll ratings, US Weekly magazine, or the congressional debate on immigration? I had thought the chairs in the House of Representatives were firmly attached to the floor. Apparently not.
The tag continued with other stern admonishments to avoid obvious dangers:
--Do not stand on this product.
--Do not sit on the back support or arm support of this product.
It's a cheap, flimsy collapsible chair. Standing on it would be like standing on moral principle while voicing the Democratic party position on Iraq. The "back support" is a thin sheet of cloth. The "arm support" is likewise. Cautioning Americans against sitting on them is as pathetic--and probably as necessary--as cautioning Americans against sitting Jeffrey Skilling on a corporate board.
I was on the edge of my seat guessing what mindless American behavior the tag would warn of next.
--Do not sit on the edge of seat.
Furthermore the tag declared:
--Be careful not to trap fingers when folding.
--Weight limit of this chair is 240 lbs.
If current body mass index trends continue, everyone in America over the age of six will be enjoined from relaxing on my patio. The company that makes this chair is announcing that Americans are too fat and stupid for furniture. The company is, of course, Chinese. That perhaps explains the awkward phrasing in another warning:
--Keep clear of all obstacle children, people when folding and unfolding this product.
I take the point, people--especially you two-career yuppie couple people who are setting the tone in America today. You have your busy professional and social schedules plus your need for time for yourselves so you can practice yoga, attend An Inconvenient Truth screenings, and grow as persons. What should we call your one (or occasionally two) offspring except "obstacle children"? The nannies, the daycare, the preschools, the tutoring, the lessons and classes and play groups to which you subject your kids certainly indicate a desire to keep clear of them.
I assumed that the tag had a legal reason for existence. Doubtless, even with America's ridiculous liability laws, a company can avoid some trial lawyer depredations by publishing every conceivable risk entailed in using what it sells. I got out the cell phone that I feel compelled to carry even while lolling in the backyard (another thing that's wrong with America) and called a law firm specializing in such matters. I told the receptionist at O'Shyster, Tortberg and Scammington that I seemed likely to be injured by a folding chair. "However," I said, "despite printed instructions to the contrary, I did not . . .
--Check for damage or tear in fabric. If any damage is found, do not use this product.
. . . so you probably won't want to take my case." The receptionist told me that John Edwards would be over within the hour; meanwhile I might want to start pricing yachts.
It seems the tag on my chair is just a snarky note, a calculated insult to the American people from a Chinese corporation--maybe from the entire nation of China. Says the tag:
--Use this product on level ground only.
That is the great dream of modern America, level ground for everyone. And if the level is low, way down in the region of Howard Dean's rhetoric, the New York Times's patriotism, or Nick Lachey's talent, so much the better. Then every American can achieve his or her dream, which is, as far as I can tell, to be on TV. Star Jones Reynolds did.
The Chinese know from experience what excessive leveling can do to a society. And they're cheering us on. That's why the chair tag states:
--Do not use cupholder for hot drinks.
So I tossed away the $5.50 take-out caffeinated beverage from the one American corporation still capable of challenging Chinese global economic hegemony. I was about to give up on America and have a beer even though it was ten in the morning. But first, I thought, there was a little essay to be written about that tag fluttering between my legs. I jerked on it. There was a ripping noise. The chair fabric gave way under my body mass index as I tumbled over, whacking my head on the somewhat unlevel ground of my patio while the deck chair folded up, painfully trapping my fingers.
Later, I confess, I stood on this product with a vengeance.