Sunday, May 30, 2010

Don’t try this at home

You know the drill. You get some ailment, go to the doctor and get a prescription. Whatever your problem, the medicine you end up with shares this common trait with all others: Among the myriad potential side effects listed is one that’s identical to what the drug is designed to relieve. A drug for stomach upset, in other words, could give you stomach upset. One for sleep trouble might keep you awake. Got pain? It might be from the stupid way you lifted something—or from the drug prescribed for the pain. The original pain, for all you know, might be long gone.

It isn't just medicine. Watch a commercial on TV or listen to one on the radio. Car leasing, cellphone service, investments...the commercial's ending is invariably a monotonous rambling slew of syllables detailing how all exceptions to the commercial you just heard apply to you. If you could make any of it out, that is. Remember the speed-talking Joe Moschitta of that award-winning Federal Express commercial of 1981? I'm convinced he must make a big living as a coach to those who recite disclaimers at the ends of commercials.

Some of this, of course, comes from how we’ve become a super-litigious society. Consider all the disposable coffee cups with “Warning, this beverage is hot” printed on the side if you don’t agree. If you list every contingency imaginable, the theory apparently goes, the manufacturer can always say you were warned. But let’s face it—nobody takes responsibility for anything anymore. Just ask your weatherman.

Don’t think this trend has gone as far as it will. But maybe it shouldn’t stop here. I, for one, think it’s high time the rest of us had our own legalese disclaimers that could be posted at the entrances to our offices or cubicles, and piped into the phone as the boss is left on hold. Here’s one that could apply to many of us on Monday mornings—just not me (disclaimer):

Employee subject to lethargic fugue prior to ingestion of coffee, after lunch and throughout afternoon. Hunger prior to lunch may produce similar response. Guarantee to answer ringing phones and emails subject to prevailing mood and whim. Nodding in meetings not indicative of understanding or agreement. Help provided to mentored employees inversely related to level of perceived talent. Instructions carried out solely until receipt of written compliment supporting annual case for promotion.

Still, we’d better be careful here. The latest wave of entrants to America’s labor force is graduating this month, and if we fogies-in-training don’t get cracking, we’re bound to disclaim our lazy behinds right out of our jobs.

That is, until employers take the time to read the disclaimers some graduates present once hired:

Employee punctuality subject to length of line stood in to buy double-espresso raspberry mocha frappachino. Employee not responsible for time required to read and comment on status updates of 400 Facebook friends per hour. Texts received from friends and others during work hours immediately addressed with LOL or other appropriate response. Employee’s agreement to perform assigned duties subject to nullification should volume of manager’s voice exceed volume of music playing on employee’s personal audio device. Employer recognizes employee’s reserved right to corner office as per 16+ years’ inflation of self-esteem.