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Jim Mullen: Labels, labels everywhere

Jim Mullen • Updated Apr 14, 2017 at 3:00 PM

I brought home some new dishes the other day and put them in the dishwasher. They came out perfectly clean, but the paper labels on the back still looked brand-new. 

I took a nylon scrubber to them with no effect whatsoever. Scraping them with a kitchen knife just made the labels look ratty and tattered. What do they glue these things on with? And where can I buy some? I’ve got plenty of things around the house that could use a glue like that. Imagine what a boon that glue would be to the toupee industry. It could put the nail industry out of business overnight.

It’s not just used on dish labels, either. I got a wrench from the hardware store a few weeks ago, unwrapped the cardboard strap it came in, and started to tighten up a bolt on the snowblower. The wrench stuck to my hands. I washed the wrench, scrubbed it, steel-wooled it, and it still remains sticky to the touch. I know it’s a little thing, a “first-world problem,” but why does every item I buy have to waste so much of my time? I have things to do. I could have spent that time playing video games or watching Netflix.

I’m starting to resent all labels. They’re on everything you buy now -- mattresses, electric cords, shirts, blankets, towels, you name it. Recently, I bought some decorative pillows for the living room. (Everyone knows there’s no quicker way to make it look like you bought new furniture than to buy a few pillows. Everything still sags and puckers, but all anyone seems to notice are the pillows.) Every one of the pillows came with an enormous white sticker telling me everything I might ever want to know about them. That they were made of inflammable, hypoallergenic material in a country that didn’t exist when I was a kid, and that I should wash them on the delicate cycle, but only after I test the fabric somewhere no one will notice it. One of them even tells me that the label itself is made of recycled plastic. What a relief to know that I’m resting my head near someone’s used yogurt cup. It’s so romantic.

A word of advice: When a label says “Do not remove under penalty of law,” that just means it’s illegal for the store that sells the item to remove the sticker. Once you get it home, feel free to remove it -- if you can. I cut my pillow’s label off, and it left a little white stripe where it’s sewn into the seam. Not a big deal on a mattress, but on those sofa pillows, you can see it from across the room. I should have just left the price tags on, as well.

Instead of having a label on every towel, sheet, bath mat, cushion, mattress, pillow and electrical cord I buy, wouldn’t it be easier if the stores selling this stuff just put a sign on their front door? It could say, “We check what goes into the stuff we sell, so you don’t have to.”

Of course, we all know the reason the labels are there. Because lawyers. Some fool wraps a toaster in a sofa cushion and drops it in the bubble bath, and suddenly you’re up to your neck in lawyers. It seems it’s not against the law to be foolish.

This may be the simplest solution of all to the label problem -- label the lawyers. Make them walk around with a big white tag sewn into their clothes that says where they went to school, their class standing, their hourly billing rate and the type of law they specialize in.

It should also say, “Don’t remove this label under penalty of law.”

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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