Don’t forget to read the fine print

The clerk rang up my purchase, which triggered a whole list of fine print. She pointed at a screen in front of me. ”Just hit the ‘accept’ button and sign the next screen.”


I stood with stylus poised over the screen, scanning through the cramming of tiny words:

Don’t shower with a plugged-in toaster; don’t mix opera and rap while operating heavy machinery; I agree to give up my comic book collection to…

The clerk reached around the screen. ”See, it’s that button. Tap it like this. Now you use that stick in your hand just like a pen and sign…”

”I was reading the fine print,” I snapped.

Her patronizing smile froze. ”You were? Seriously? No one’s ever actually done that. What did it say?”

”I’m not sure. I’d only made it to box scores from the 1973 Singapore marbles championship when you barged in.”

She sighed. ”Nuts. I came so close to finally finding out what’s in the fine print.”

Fine print’s easy to skip. Now directions, I’m all for ignoring. Some of my greatest entertainment comes from pulling a gadget out of a box or sliding behind the wheel of unfamiliar equipment, scratching my head and musing, ”I wonder what that lever does?”

Directions just slow a guy down. And things tend to be a lot less exciting when the element of surprise is removed. That’s why my dad took me aside years ago to impart perhaps the most important advice a father can teach a son: ”Start it up and see what happens. But if all else fails, read the directions.”

But fine print scares me. It’s like box of breakfast cereal with a prize hidden inside, but it sure won’t be a secret decoder ring. I fear they don’t want me to know what I just signed.

Fortunately, I married a wise woman who insists that I read all fine print before signing anything. (That’s how we lost the dining room table two years ago.)

So I’m ready. Some day, I’ll open the door to Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in black suits and sunglasses. Tommy Lee will hold up a sheaf of papers. ”Sir, is this your signature on the coffee maker warranty?”

”Where it looks like a lizard’s tail smudged ink from the bottom of a chicken’s foot? Yep, that’s mine.”

Will will say, ”You’re going to have to come with us on a clear violation of Section IV(K), Paragraph 27, Sentence 4 (b)(37a).”

”A what?”

”The part where you agreed to send us purple geraniums on every Thursday that’s the 22nd day of any month on the calendar with at least 31 days and at least one letter ‘T’ in its name.”

That’s when I’ll have them. I’ll whip out the appropriate document from the accordion binders plugging our Hall(way) of Fine Print Fame.

”Ah, but Section XIV(Oa1), Paragraph 323, Sentence 2 (d)(12z17) states that all even number sentences in Sections III through VII become null and void in any month that both the Los Angeles Dodgers win at least 20 games and any guy named Robin hits No. 1 on the Billboard charts.”

Tommy Lee will glare through the glasses. ”You might have us this time, but watch it. Geraniums.”

”Purple,” Will will add.

”I dunno,” I’ll say closing the door. ”You better check the fine print.”

—- Read his fine print at the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at