Sympathy for the devil judge

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

If you're like most people, you're probably glad that Roy Pearson got his comeuppance.

He's the Washington, D.C. judge who unsuccessfully sued the neighborhood dry cleaner for $54 million for allegedly losing his suit pants. (Too bad he forgot the pack of Tic Tacs in the pocket; he could've sued for enough to buy Bill Gates.)

Pearson's claim was based on an extreme, literal interpretation of the dry cleaner's "Satisfaction Guaranteed" slogan. Nothing short of $54 million could satisfy him, so…

I know. The suit was frivolous and unreasonable and outrageous, but I'm still glad that Pearson cast a spotlight on the irresponsibly vague state of the English language. I'm trying to teach my attentive son the definitions of words, but with hackneyed phrases such as "no reasonable offer will be refused" "I'll make it worth your while," and "best in town," it's difficult to prove that words are supposed to mean something.

What about the word "collectible"? Hey, my cousin collected Clorox jugs when he was a kid, so slapping "collectible" on something doesn't exactly entice me to take out a second mortgage.

Some claims can be downright dangerous. Multiple merchants advertising "We will not be undersold" can amount to an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. ("Hey, didn't there used to be a car dealership where that black hole exists now?")

Some claims have no governing body to verify them, and probably few people who are really that impressed anyway. Take, "Coldest beer in town." I can't imagine a pack of 15-year-olds telling a 21-year-old big brother, "Dude! You got the beer from the store that's a degree warmer! Just take the stuff back. We'll go wash church windows or something."

Then there are the temporarily sincere mourners. You know, "You'll be in our prayers" and "Let us know if there's anything we can do" and all that jazz. Six months later, it's "Say, we ought to invite Ed and Selma over for supper. Oh, that's right -- Ed is taking a dirt nap!"

Boasts about TV ratings are among the most meaningless and misleading claims. "45 million people have watched Vegetating With The Has-Beens!" More likely, the same 15 million people have watched it three weeks in a row and been counted as a separate viewer each time. Or, in the case of NBC, maybe 45 people have been counted for a million weeks in a row.

Probably my biggest pet peeve on insincere pronouncements is the patented answering machine message. You know, "I'm unable to come to the phone right now, but leave your name and number and I'll call you back."

I've lost count of the number of times that "I'll call you back" means something other than "I'll call you back." Oil-change operations have a 19-point checkup, so I've developed my own 19-point list. ("Do I have B.O.? Did I accidentally work the word 'watchtower' into the message?")

No matter. I've worked out a sweet revenge. When I find habitual non-responders, I'll just start leaving a message like, "I'm calling on behalf of Ed McMahon, who is on his way to your apartment right now with a Publishers Clearinghouse check. If the directions he's using are incorrect and he doesn't arrive at your house promptly, please call me at ….BEEEEEEEEEEP!"