Living in Dangerous Times

Living in Dangerous Times

To appreciate that we live in perilous times, one has only to observe the security precautions surrounding the President's recent inauguration. Closer to home, the average American worries about cancer, pollution, drunken drivers, gluten, and crime in his neighborhood. As the country singer Johnny Cash warbles so succinctly, ''Life ain't easy for a boy named Sue,'' and it is not much smoother for the rest of us these days.

But I did not fully comprehend how dangerous matters had become until I purchased a stepladder. The big black lettering at eye level read: ''Warning: do not use if you tire easily, are subject to fainting spells or are using medication or alcohol.'' In other words, ''If you drink, don't climb."

There was more: ''Maintain a firm grip, use both hands when climbing.'' And most important: "Don't step on the top step." I assumed break dancing atop my new ladder was taboo, as well. The label left other issues unstated. For example, it explained how to ascend but not how to come down. Besides, how was I supposed to get myself, and the two-by- four (not to mention my shiny new hammer) up the ladder, with both hands holding on for dear life?

I gazed despondently at my hammer. That was a mistake. The handle read: "Warning - this tool can be made to chip if struck against another tool or hard object with possible eye damage." Looking around, I did not see any hard objects with possible eye damage. So far, so good. But the last sentence on the hammer was the crusher: "Always wear safety goggles." Always? In church? At the opera? I did not have any such equipment. When I bought the tool, my helpful, handy hardware man failed to advise me, "You better get safety goggles, too, or you're a goner.'" And even though I had never seen a real, honest-to-gosh carpenter pounding away in such protective getup, I began to search the house for possible substitutes. Maybe my old football helmet in the attic.

I got as far as the bathroom and decided to take refuge from the gathering forces of doom and dismemberment by hopping into my brand new whirlpool bath. The fancy tub, which was as yet unused, still had brightly colored decals stuck all over it. ''Important'' began one. ''Caution'' hollared the others (Why not "Read this or else"?).

Knowing better, I glanced at one: '"Keep body, hair and clothing a minimum of 12 inches from skimmer . . ." Who, i wondered, bathes in their clothes or with a ruler? The caution continued, " ... to minimize the potential hazard of hair or body entrapment.'' Twelve inches was only going to minimize the danger of body entrapment?

I decided to shave instead. Reaching for the can of foamy cream, I could not stop myself from studying the small print: "Avoid spraying toward an open flame. Do not puncture or incinerate. Do not store at temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Just what kind of bathroom do they think I am operating?

We label readers know that these are dangerous times. It is small wonder that our president is forever surrounded by Secret Security agents and police escorts. Half those folks are probably protecting him from ordinary household products such as blenders, spatulas and ironing boards. Have you read an ironing board lately? A word of caution: don't.