Monday, August 10, 2009

Day five hundred and eighty seven ... The label sticks.

There's one on almost everything we call our own.

Sometimes it relates a price; sometimes it provides directions; sometimes it heralds the many features that one would want in an item over one from a similar purveyor.

A label.

A small piece of paper with writing most often in a formal, cold tone and font. The writing is usually direct, to the point, and condensed: what it is, where it was made, what you should do with the product and, more importantly, what you shouldn't do.

I think it's funny to see that many people leave on the labels on their electronic gear, such as cameras and laptops, that the company put on before they pack it up.

"10 megapixels" ... "Five times oversampling" ... "HD" ... "PC and Mac compatible."

And on and on.

I like to take mine off because I don't like too much flair on my products. I'm guessing that most people probably either think that they can't take them off, they shouldn't take them off (warranty voiding anxiety), or they simply don't even notice that they're stickers.

I'm a born sticker-taker-off'er, so they don't last long on my things.

The problem I find as I go about my product cleansing is that many times the stickers don't want to leave without a fight. It's like they feel indignant that you would want to remove the message that the factory sent them off with to stand and deliver. The nerve!

Regardless, you go about your task and get that fingernail right under the edge of the label. You get a whole wave of momentum going and you feel like the whole of the world of physics is with you as your magic carpet of text, colors, and symbols starts to take off in midair. And then, without even a shred of warning, the whole plan goes kaplooey and you're left with three quarters of a curled up sticky piece of paper clinging to your finger and a big birthmark shaped splotch of gummed, grainy pulp banging its fists on the surface and laughing out loud. And so, the human that you are, you dig your nail under once again and corral the edges of the recalcitrant residue and, if you're lucky, roll it up in a ball and pick the whole mess off and go about using said item for its appropriate purpose.

Whew! That was a close one.

Sometimes, before you give up and start scraping up the unfortunate mess, you can stop peeling and start at the other side of the label cutting it off at that pass, as it were. You get right up on the other edge, and when you get to the part you had already had success with it all just comes off in one piece ... if you're lucky.

But up until now I have merely been discussing the intricacies of the average, everyday product information label. It's just one piece of paper: plain and usual. It has no agenda. It has no bias. It has no history of prejudice or animosity towards it.

It's just a label ... it can't get you arrested for screwing with it.

Not like the price tag can.

The price tag is a complicated beast. This consumer cornerstone has a whole different set of parameters than the other informative squares, circles, or other shaped piece of gummed paper because this label controls one's option for possession.

When someone purchases an item, after looking at the many labels affixed, it is theirs to do with they will. If it's a gift, we most likely will take the sticker off. Sometimes, though, depending on who it's for, we'll leave it on so as to impress upon the recipient how much we paid for an item, be it either a lot or a little, or to provide a receipt for exchange if needed (the recent trend of receipts without prices--for just this purpose--is somewhat of a delight). When I was a child my mother used to shop at myriad discount stores for clothes and other things for me. Often, the tag on the clothes would contain many stickers from the multiple markdowns it endured during it's life on the hanger. My mom would usually peel them off leaving the highest "list" price possible so I would appreciate what the pair of pants or shirt she had procured for me on her public school teacher's salary was worth. Invariably there would be residue from the sale labels that had been affixed, and this--as well as the fact that it came from a discount store--would alert me to the fact that it had come to me by way of a markdown.

As a child of the Seventies I noticed a few trends come into my world.

Skateboards, cassettes, iron-ons, heavy metal ... and peel-proof price tags.

It seemed like one day they were all just little, plain, solid pieces of sticky paper ... and the next they were fluorescent booby traps. Scored in seemingly random patterns these new labels appeared to be made in an attempt to thwart would-be petty criminals from transferring the tag from a lower priced item to one with a much higher value ...

... not that I ever tried anything like this. I was a good boy ...

But anyway, these new labels started cropping up everywhere you looked. They weren't foolproof of course. A skilled hand could carefully peel the edges all around the perimeter and then get a thumb hold under the center and pull and remove and replace ... if one wanted to.

And, of course, as the decade wore on, the bar code and the electronic scanner would come into play. Whether we knew it or not we were about to become a world where databases replaced store managers, ray gun shaped pricing guns conveyed vital information about everything in your cart, and cashiers were at the mercy of a giant computer in the shape of a cash register.

But they'd never--and they will never--get rid of the price tag, because the price tag is for us the consumer. It is what we use to decide if we are to give our money away in exchange for something someone, or something, made for our use. And there will constantly be discrepancies between what the tag says and what the scanner says, because human error is necessary for human existence. When we cease to make mistakes we will have no use for improvement.

We all have labels on us.

It's easy to say, "you can't put a label on me ... I'm unique." I'm sure some will disagree with me but I believe that there's a label on all of us that shows what we're made of. And no matter how hard we try to remove fully the sticky piece of paper that describes what we do, how we think, who we love, where we're from, where we're going, and what we believe, a residue remains.

I'm an alcoholic.

I've done a great job so far removing the bits and pieces of my life that were starting to destroy me. I curtailed all the dangerous and degenerative habits that kept me from connecting with people on a genuine level. I admitted to myself that I was so wrong about so many ingrained beliefs about what makes me "cool" or attractive, or popular, or interesting (or for that matter, undesirable). I took off the little stickers that showed others what I was ostensibly capable of doing--what I had bragged about intending to do for so long--and just did it.

And now I have this life--this amazing life that I am sharing with my girlfriend, traveling around the world, constructing a scrapbook of interesting images and a skyscraper of raw emotion--and I am unafraid to let my label show. I gave up the aggressive tendencies to be an amorphous individual, unable to be boxed in, always trying to be something different, something indescribable ... something I wasn't.

Because I realized finally that the label that I had tried to affix to myself from another personality--one that I labored over and defended at even the slightest suggestion that, perhaps, it wasn't working for me--was scored throughout to reveal just such a ruse. I was busted fair and square.

Sometimes we look at our handiwork and only see the unfinished outcome.

Sometimes we truly believe that no one will notice that something's not quite right.

Sometimes we just put what we want in our pocket and walk out of the store hoping that the alarm won't go off.

And sometimes it goes off when we go in empty handed.

I'm just glad that my conscience is clean, my goals are clear, and my mind knows exactly how much is at stake no matter how often I ponder what it's all worth.

It's worth everything that I've got.

Thanks for reading,