I stayed in a hotel in Germany a while ago and my room had one of those tiny safes inside the clothes closet. This safe was large enough to hold a wallet, a passport, a few Euros, and maybe a bit of jewelry. That's it. Inside the door, however, there was a warning (printed in English for us Americans). The warning read, "Suffocation Danger Exits!" I dwelled on that for a while, and then I made sure I didn't try to put my head in there. And close the door.
Even the Germans are looking out for me.
Years ago, I was in the boiler room of a Long Island apartment building. I was looking at a base-mounted pump that was as big as a loveseat. This pump had a spring coupler that was whirring ominously at 1,750 rpm. There was no coupler guard around that steel menace, and no one seemed to mind. I remember leaning down to read the label on the pump's base. Young as I was, I had the good sense to tuck my necktie into my shirt before I did this. I didn't feel like going on The Ride That Needs No Ticket.
Everyone thought this was normal back then. And if you were dopey enough to get sucked into a whirling wheel of death, well, that just meant that you were dopey. Probably dead as well, but definitely dopey.
Nowadays, it's hard to find a spring coupler, let alone one that's looking to separate you from your head, or fill the air with shrapnel when it wears out and lets loose. This is because we're all looking out for each other nowadays. We look out for each other because none of us wants to be sued. We have the lawyers to thank for our longer lifespan these days. Fear of financial ruin forces us all to live more safely. It's true. Go thank a lawyer.
Ever consider how we no longer get hit in the face with balls of asbestos, playfully thrown by psychotic heating contractors as we enter the boiler rooms of America? Lawyers. We now know that the mortality rate of people exposed to asbestos is a shocking 100 percent and the lawyers are all over that. If you have been exposed to asbestos you will someday die. Absolutely no doubt about it. The lawyers on the TV are looking for the psychotic heating contractors who once pelted us with the Magic Mineral. Those psychotic heating contractors had better watch out. Times have changed.
When I was a schoolboy I had to take gym class several times a week, as I'm sure you also did. Things were different then and the only one watching out for me was Little Joey. The gym teacher would tell me to go bounce on the trampoline, and he would assign Little Joey and a couple of smaller kids to spot me. They were supposed to catch me if I went bounding over the edge. They were also there to cringe when my chubby legs descended at Newtonian speed, darting their way between the vicious steel springs, which, like those now-gone spring couplers, were uncovered in those days. Oh, mama.
The same gym teacher would command me to climb a fat rope that hung heavily from the gymnasium ceiling. I was to grab the knots in the rope between my Keds and shinny to the top of the building. "Youse guys," the gym teacher would shout, "smack dat girder up dare at the ceiling and den slide back down. Get movin'!" We all obeyed because this guy was 1950s-scary, the sort of hulking pile of muscle that, a few years earlier, had been charging up hills in the Philippines, firing a bazooka. "Little Joey, you spot Big Danny," he'd yell, and Little Joey, who weighed about 65 pounds, would stand 30 feet below me, ready to break my fall, even as I was breaking my neck. And that was perfectly normal back then. It was gym.
And we played dodge ball in gym. The school actually sanctioned this. The purpose of the game was to hit each other in the most sensitive spots with a relatively hard ball, thrown as hard as a kid can throw, and we played it with real rage. And the school thought this was just fine.
Nobody was liable for anything when I was a kid. The lawyers hadn't yet arrived in force. If you fell from the ceiling you were an idiot. Life was simpler then, and that was just fine with our parents. Our parents were the people who found nothing wrong with allowing my brother and me to stand up on the backseat of the car and make faces at the other drivers, all while roaring down the highway in a 4,000-pound Buick with a metal dashboard and a javelin for a steering-wheel post. These same parents allowed us to sit on their laps while they motored down the road. Imagine that. Britney Spears made the news for doing this a few months ago. My father thought it was normal. He even let me steer. Actually, I had to steer because he needed both hands to work the church key on his beers. Ahh, the simple life. Only Little Joey watched over me.
I have some literature from the Clow Gasteam Radiator Company. You can see these radiators in Jerry Seinfeld's apartment on the old TV show. You filled a Clow radiator partway with water and then lit the gas burner underneath. The fire made steam, which heated the radiator, and then condensed back into the bottom of the radiator. It was like having your own little steam boiler, right there in the room with you. Oh, and the unit vented into the room, which must have made the people pretty sleepy back then. And it was also okay if your drapes came within a few inches of that open flame. The lawyers hadn't yet caught on that Clow might be responsible for all that fire and CO. Folks just wanted to be warm.
Nowadays, you can't open a manufacturer's catalog without seeing a few hundred warnings about all the bad things that can happen to you if you somehow manage to misapply their products. That's a good thing, though; I like it when people watch out for me.
But every now and then, I still yearn for a good game of dodge ball. Know what I mean?