There are plenty of other worthwhile presents. Food. Drink. Money. Something simple, something that works. The last thing you want is to buy a gift that baffles, that bamboozles, that brings the receiver one stop further towards despair. Do not buy the Lucky Cat. I was given it recently as a belated housewarming present. "You shouldn't have," I said, and events were to prove that I was right on the money. Apparently, it's a traditional Japanese symbol of prosperity and good fortune. In brackets, it says, "Maneki Neko", which translated means Lucky Cat.
The packaging - by Nuvo Accessories, 10 West 33rd Street, New York, NY 1001 - declared that my present was inflatable. Nuvo's pithy advertising line blathered, "When cool-looking furniture is just a breath away!" Well, even my best friends congratulate me for being full of hot-air, so I opened the box and plucked out the Lucky Cat.
It came with instructions. I like instructions. Language becomes an arithmetic (steps, procedures, everything in its right place), and I really like arithmetic - whenever someone at the club begins boring me to tears, I fill my head with sums, divisions and assorted basic equations. Even so, I doubted that I needed instructions before inflating the Lucky Cat.
"Warning," the instructions began, giving me pause. "Do not over inflate. Please read these instruction before use." Please add plurals before writing instructions, I would have thought, but I read on. "This product is not intended for use by children under 3. Adult supervision is required at all times. Product should be check for any loose or broken parts and discarded." I swept the house for tots, then investigated for broken parts. Neither was in evidence. The future looked bright for the Lucky Cat.
Then the small print laid it on thick. "Do not over inflate," it repeated. "Do not try to remove every last wrinkle. This will cause over inflation. Do not use a high pressure hose to inflate." Oh, come on. Did they really even suspect that was any way to treat the Lucky Cat?
Yes, they did. "If compressor or pump is used, inflate only 80% and finish inflation by mouth." What nonsense. But then: "Those suffering from asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, high blood pressure or any breathing or physical difficulties, should not inflate this product by mouth. If dizziness or nervousness occurs when inflating this product, stop and rest then consult your doctor."
Any physical difficulties. Bloody hell. Nervousness had most certainly already occurred, but it was a Sunday, and where would I find a doctor? Was I really up to the job? When did I last have a medical? Convinced my whole life that I would be the kind of sap who dies in pathetic circumstances - walked into a traffic light, walked beneath a falling piano - it now seemed possible that I might expire while inflating the Lucky Cat.
But, even if I survived that first time, what then? Page two of the instructions was headlined, "Maintenance and deflating". It ranted, "The air inside your product is subject to atmospheric changes, such as gravity, temperature and barometric pressures. For example, oxygen mixed with carbon dioxide tends to move from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area through a process called osmosis. Therefore, your product should be refreshed with more air once to twice a week."
Fah-get it. It sounded like a suicide mission - or like Russian roulette, except the cartridges might be loaded with a sudden, hidden form of physical difficulty. A man died quite absurdly yesterday, guffawing mourners say. He breathed his last while trying to refresh the Lucky Cat.
There were so many other complexities. Where to put the blasted thing? "Keep away from heat. Heat will cause over-inflation. Cold will caused contraction ... In cold areas products should be submerged in warm water before inflation to reduce stiffness." In the breather, or the Lucky Cat? "These products are designed with a support column air compression system," it continued. "They use an 'I' beam construction that distributes the air into several pockets. The suggested weight guidelines are, chairs: 180-2001bs, sofas: 360-4001bs, ottomans: 100-1301bs." Have you weighed your ottoman recently? "Caution should be used when reaching the suggested weights." What the hell does that mean? But the instructions seemed to favour the use of a chair, "For best stability, chair should be placed against a supporting wall." Otherwise, I suppose, the chair might topple to the ground, and annihilate that goddamned Lucky Cat.
Daredevils may feel challenged to go out and buy it at once. Others might have a sudden urge to punish easily worried friends and relatives by giving it to them as a birthday present. Please, don't. Birthdays are a time for spreading joy, for being real nice to people. It is not a time for complicating matters by presenting anyone with the traditional Japanese symbol of good fortune and prosperity, the Lucky Cat.