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Charney/My Turn: More like a loser manual

I suspect, and with good reason, that the purpose of a user manual is to make people cry. Otherwise, why make it so confusing for those of us without advanced degrees in jet pack engineering? And why, for goodness sakes, make you cry when all you are trying to do is insert a CD?

OK, it’s a new car. The car has superb mileage, a cool interior and a smooth ride. I am feeling ready to rock ‘n’ roll, perhaps a little smug and self-satisfied, when suddenly the interior lights don’t turn off when I press the off button and, worse, the CD doesn’t go into the obvious CD slot. I prod a bit, jiggle a bit and push a few more buttons, but no deal. I don’t want to, but I have no choice but to resort to the user manual.

After a few minutes, I manage — good searching on my part — to locate the index. It’s in very tiny, tiny print. I finally see that CD operation is on Page 76, whoops make that 67. But when I get there, I can’t read a thing, which may have something to do with the fact that it’s written in Chinese?

OK, I find English. It says to push “load” if you are car A. Am I car A? But if you are car B push “load and check the screen.” Am I B or A? Now I am having an identify crisis and meanwhile the CD is flapping in the breeze. At which point, I throw the user manual into the back seat with a few choice expletives. Instead, I go to find that very nice man at Greenfield Imports and ask him to turn off lights and insert the CD. It turns out to be very, very simple. As was the explanation for the tire inflation icon, that appeared early the next morning in a most alarming fashion. According to that very, very nice person at Art’s Tires, I could ignore the alarm because my car is just sensitive to the cold.

Fine. I ignore it. Except the part where I am again crying — and really I don’t cry easy — when once again I have to retrieve that !#!% user manual.

This is not my first dark encounter with user manuals. Many years ago, I bought a home. I was the first one in my family’s history to be a homeowner not a renter. My first-ever home came with a lawn. After a few weeks, it was clear that lawns needed to be mowed, ergo I needed a lawn mower. I considered the teenager across the street, but then decided my house, my lawn, my mower.

I went straight off to Sears (it was on Main Street back then) and purchased a bright green mower with pretty red trim that looked easy to push, and per demonstration, was easy to start. However, there was a misunderstanding of sorts because what got delivered was a box, a box with many parts. And I was expected to assemble the parts into a working machine according to the enclosed — you guessed it — user manual. I was about to call a male friend, when some misguided feminist pride kicked in. Then I thought about my friend Marlynn, a mechanical whiz, when my city girl pride kicked me in the butt. I can do this, I told myself. Except, here’s the thing, I couldn’t.

Instead, what I did was shove the non-working assemblage into the back of my car, tucked its remaining scattered parts into my pocket and headed back to Sears. “You do it,” I begged. And sure enough, a short time later the things that were backwards, were frontwards, the things that were loose, were tightened, the parts that were stashed away in pockets were fitted in functional order. It was now ready to go and mow some crazy lawn. No thanks, I have to say, to its user manual.

So here are a few suggestions:

One: Cars, computers, electric blenders and i-anythings should come with very, very nice and patient on-call personnel on 24 hour speed dial.

Two: Some truly innovative soul, with a deep grasp of the art of the simple English sentence, should take up the cause of producing user manuals for real-life users. Preferably in print that doesn’t require major magnification.

Three: Such a manual may create a brand new market without the “dummy” insinuation. Think of it instead like the shampoo, “user manuals without tears.”

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.

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