“The cap in your mouth can obstruct breathing if swallowed.”

Hot spa cover with warning

Riding home last night I was listening to NPR which had a report on the 14th annual Wacky Warning Labels Contest, started by Bob Dorigo Jones in 1997. The idea behind the contest is that in our litigious society, we are being over-warned because of “frivolous” lawsuits, and that these warning labels have become absurd.

The 2011 five finalists:

For ball point pen chewers— “The cap in your mouth can obstruct breathing if swallowed.”

On a dust mask— “Does not supply oxygen.”

On a hot tub cover— “Warning: Avoid drowning. Remove safety cover from spa when in use.”

On a leather handgun holster designed to look like a personal digital assistant— “For gun only, not a functional day planner.”

For bicycle riders— “The action depicted in this brochure is potentially dangerous. The riders seen are experts or professionals.” Some of the children pictured have training wheels on their bikes. Other children are just standing by their bikes.

Now this all seems ridiculous, but I remember Mr. Stranahan, my 7th grade history teacher back in 1963. He was a real character, usually wearing two randomly selected socks, his hair disheveled with a strange collick rising from the left top of his head. We would play cards, talk, and laugh in the back of his room, during class, and he never said anything about it. He would just continue to lecture.

One day, he was sitting at the front of the room, droning on about something during Louis the XIV’s reign and while he was talking, he held a pen cap between his teeth, open side facing out. Between sentences, or maybe between several, he would put the pen he was holding in his right hand into the pen cap and then remove it, into the pen cap and then remove it. I remember watching him because he was talking out of the side of his mouth due to the placement of the pen cap. More lecture. (More card playing.) More pen into the pen cap between the teeth. (More talking at the back of the room.) More lecture. More pen into the pen cap between the teeth. You get the picture.

Then, the inevitable happened. On one of the pen into the pen cap moves, he apparently catapaulted the pen cap into his throat. He began coughing and heaving heavy breaths probably in an attempt to shoot the pen cap back out. After several moments of gasping, coughing, heaving (and for once we were all silent and focused totally on him) he loudly whispered that class was dismissed. We all looked at each other and quickly left the room.

Next day he was back in class, with two differently colored socks and his usual messed up hair, but this time had a pencil in his hand.

Actually, I don’t think a warning label would have helped him.

This entry was posted in education, history, memoir, school, Teaching and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to “The cap in your mouth can obstruct breathing if swallowed.”

  1. Michael says:

    You have hosted a cast of curious characters in you life. Glad to consider myself among them.

  2. JEROME BLOOM says:














  3. KG Waite says:

    This is hilarious. Poor Mr. Stranahan.

  4. Rhi says:

    So funny. I can’t help myself but touch things that are labelled “Do Not Touch”

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