I can tell people how to write. And I can read a written piece and know whether it's good.
But I've no clue about commercial products--until I suddenly see that they're all wrong. I recall with amazement those few products that lacked the essentials of simplicity and common sense, that were seemingly created by idiots.
Take my earliest stove tops, for instance. Suddenly it's clear there's a link between a succession of stoves, the door on a Lincoln Town Car, and a disastrous pair of tennis shoes—all suffering from unimaginable design flaws.
The earliest of these products was a ridiculous stove top. In order to remove the parts for cleaning, you had to use a screwdriver to take out a few screws, or in later versions, unwind certain parts, or shift one or two levers . . . in essence do a dismantling job reminiscent of Erector sets. The first designers apparently thought that without all these nuts and bolts, parts of the stove might come apart and blow away. The flaws went on through several permutations and various brand names—until some simplicity-oriented man finally figured out that gravity alone—plus a few well-placed grooves-- would hold everything in place. I recall my amazement when I finally bought a stove for which all the parts merely lifted off. No screws, no bolts, no tools. And sure enough, gravity did its job.
My Lincoln Town Car, a decade ago, embodied the height of freakish design. I hadn’t had my new/used Lincoln long before the driver’s side door, curved inward like a scimitar, took a chunk out of my left leg. The second time this happened, I sold the car. Only last night, four of us were comparing our brief and dangerous encounters with this vehicle. All four had suffered significant leg gashes before each of us offloaded our Lincolns. This flaw never achieved public notice but, in the manner of gossip, was damned quietly among its users.
The last design flaw could have killed me. My new tennis shoes, supposedly designed with ergonomic inner springs, were so thick, top to bottom, and so unstable, that occasionally I found myself lurching forward, tripped up by my own footwear. I should have tossed away the shoes. But I didn’t. What happened next was so traumatic that only now, a week later, can I bear to describe that event.
I was bending over to pick some theater tickets off my front porch, and was just straightening when one of my shoes "caught," that is, the toe stubbed and wouldn't allow me to stand straight. In my effort to regain my balance, I began pedaling. But all that footwork merely propelled me forward, and I was soon flying into space, out over our pebbled walkway.
The sensation was horrible. I was literally airborne, and would soon come down on the rocks. In horror, I still tried to regain my balance, but couldn't. I would land and land hard. Virtually on cement.
The sensation of hitting was as horrible as I thought it would be. From my position on the rocks, I tried to grasp how badly I was hurt. I saw that my right wrist was torn open, and some internal injury made it hurt to breathe.
With what breath I could gather, I screamed through the open front door at my husband, Rob.
He didn't hear me. The TV was on, and unknown to me the Challenger accident was replaying, and Rob thought the screaming came from the TV. Over and over, louder, and louder, I shrieked his name. Unaided, I couldn't get off the walkway--that much I knew.
At last, when I was nearly beyond any more screams, Rob heard me and came out. He was horrified at what had happened--but both of us knew he couldn't get me to my feet. At worst, he would go down too.
I said, "Call Chris," (our son--an orthopedic surgeon), and luckily Chris lived nearby and had just arrived home.
For ten minutes, Rob stood and comforted me--the greatest comfort for both of us being that I hadn't hit my head. My glasses were sprung, my wrist was bleeding, my insides were ablaze, but I was alive.
Chris and his wife, Betty-Jo, arrived to find me still sprawled and bleeding. Chris told Rob to go get our walker with the seat, (used in prior knee surgeries), and together, Chris and Betty-Jo gathered me under the arms and lifted me onto the little seat. The pain was horrendous.
With difficulty, they wheeled me inside to the couch. My breathing grew ever more difficult.
Chris did some tests. Gently prodding, he said, "Does this hurt?" "Does this hurt?" and to his relief he said, "You've had the greatest possible luck, Mom. You haven't broken any vertebrae, or injured your head. You've broken some ribs--the best thing that could have happened."
At the moment "best" didn't seem very good. But Chris knew how to be comforting. As difficult as it seemed, I WAS breathing.
"We don't do anything for broken ribs," he said. "We just leave them alone. " And then, with a smile, "Where's your Vicodin?"
And thus began a week of pain killers. But to everyone's amazement, especially Chris's, x-rays the following Monday showed no broken ribs. "I guess you just tore the cartilage," he said.
Injured or not, I managed to give a speech the next day--and a second one two days later. But in one area I flunked terribly. Rob and I are taking a "brain plasticity" course, and the day I arrived in class all doped-up on Vicodin, my scores dropped so low I appeared to be practically brainless. The two big lessons from the accident became agonizingly clear: You don't wear shoes that have ever tripped you, even once. And you can't fool your brain when you're on drugs. No matter how hard you try, narcotics will prove that you've become a moron.
Too bad we can't spread this lesson among all our teenage kids.