It's time for "Consumer Advice for Normal Humans," the popular feature that has been endorsed by top consumer authorities including Ralph Nader, Consumer Reports, Mister Rogers, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Queen Elizabeths I and II, because it answers the questions of real consumers, defined as "consumers who frequently have to open 'childproof' aspirin bottles with their teeth."
We'll start with the most common consumer question, namely:
Q: Is there anything I can do about the irritating light on my VCR that has been flashing "12:00" since the first term of the Reagan administration?
A: You have several options here. Our wife, following the recommendation of leading electronics experts, makes the light go away at night by draping a standard hand towel over the VCR. However, a friend of ours named Hannah informs us that you can obtain more permanent results by covering the light with a piece of black electrician's tape.
Q: What if I don't know any black electricians?
A: You know what we mean, you silly goose.
Q: How come the manufacturers don't put the light in back of the VCR, where you can't see it? Or just make VCRs without the light?
A: Because then they would have no way of constantly reminding you, the consumer, what a moron you are for not remembering how to program your VCR. In fact, the original plan was to have the light constantly flash the words "You Bonehead," but the manufacturers decided that this would be too obvious.
Q: The government should require that every VCR instruction manual has to have a section entitled "We're Not So Bright Ourselves," which would consist of true anecdotes involving stupid things that have been done by VCR design engineers, like the time at the VCR Design Engineers Cookout when they hooked up the gas barbecue grill incorrectly and were lacerated by a hail of spare ribs traveling at upward of 270 miles per hour.
A: Ha ha! Serves them right.
Q: What should I do with the 47 pounds of videotapes I made of the Public Broadcasting System series on the Civil War?
A: This is a growing consumer problem. Government analysts now estimate that 76 percent of the nation's strategic videotape supply is being used to store the Civil War series, which nobody has time to watch all the way through for the same reason that nobody was able to watch it all the way through the first time, namely that it lasted longer than the actual Civil War. But of course you can't erase this series, because it's Excellent Television That You Really Plan to Watch Some Day, just as you really plan to watch all the other vital videotapes you are carefully saving in a large unlabeled dust-covered pile containing such video treasures as the first 12 minutes of the 1983 Recording Industry All-Star Salute to the Accordion, or the entire four-part 1986 National Geographic nature special on Mollusks that Spit.
A friend of ours named Paddy reports that he tried to free himself from his Civil War tapes by putting them in a grocery bag and "lending" them to a friend named Fred, in hopes that they would gradually become absorbed into Fred's vital videotape pile. But Fred saw what Paddy was up to and shrewdly returned the bag. In fact, Paddy suspects that the bag now contains more videotapes than when he lent it, and possibly some zucchini. This mass of tapes will probably be passed back and forth like a gift fruitcake between the two households for years to come, gradually increasing in size, until eventually it has to travel via rental truck.
Q: What qualities should a consumer look for in a rental truck?
A: It should look as though previous renters were delivering calves on the seat.
Q: How can I be sure that my bank is a safe place for my money?
A: The Associated American Banking Association recommends that you go to the bank personally and get answers to the following questions: Are there people standing around wearing ski masks but not skiing? Does the guard have a gun? Does he know how to use it? As a depositor, you have the legal right to obtain a complimentary bank calendar and see if the guard can shoot a hole through the weekday of your choice from 10 paces.
Q: May he shoot through a legal holiday?
A: Don't be ridiculous.
Next week's consumer topic: Our long-distance telephone options, and why we don't ever want to hear another word about them. *