THERE'S NO telling exactly when I fell in love with Ann Landers, but it might have been the day she told "Steamed in Sacramento" to take a hike.
As I recall, "Steamed" was upset because store clerks, waiters, doormen and the like were constantly telling her to "Have a nice day!"
Apparently "Steamed" found the expression to be trite and too cutesy for a woman of her obvious sophistication.
Anyway, Ann Landers' reply was something to the effect of: "Hey, Steamed. Lighten up. These people are just trying to be pleasant. Why don't you go haunt a house or something?"
And as I read this in my hometown newspaper, I thought: My, my . . . what have we here? This woman gets down. This woman tells it like it is.
The first thing you notice about Ann Landers' column is: This is the home office for common sense.
Ann (if I may call her that) does not wax philosophical. Ann does not give you a lot of turgid prose, half-baked sociological theories and '90s feel-good rhetoric.
If some weepy dame (Ann's kind of word, not mine) from Peoria writes about how her boyfriend hates her dog because the stupid dog is always jumping on his lap and slobbering all over his clothes, Ann will write back: "Get rid of Rover."
Maybe you see what I'm getting at here. Ann Landers does not stand for a lot of nonsense.
Although, it must be said, Ann also has a ton of patience -- even when she gets a letter from some dingbat wailing about a problem with a painfully obvious solution, such as:
"My boyfriend cheats on me. Plus he calls me nasty names. Plus he goes into my purse and steals money. When I catch him, he sticks out his tongue, puts his thumbs in his ears and wiggles them at me.
"Did I mention he has a crack habit? I should mention that. Ann, what do I do? Signed, Unlucky at Love."
Now, let's face it. If it were anyone else giving advice, they'd go ballistic after reading something like this and write back:
"Dear Unlucky in Love:
"What are you, some kind of jerk? Get a shotgun and blow this creep away."
Am I right? Anyone else would write that. Because aside from his more obvious indiscretions -- the cheating, name-calling, thievery, crack-smoking, whatever -- a guy who sticks out his tongue, puts his thumbs in his ears and wiggles them at someone shows a total lack of respect and probably doesn't deserve to live anyway.
But Ann Landers would never say something like that in print. She would never tell a reader to grab a shotgun and ventilate this deadbeat the next time he plops down to watch "Jeopardy."
Oh, don't get me wrong, Ann might think about something along those lines.
She might sit at her desk reading "Unlucky at Love's" letter and slam down her coffee cup and howl to her research assistant: "Why doesn't this ninny just shoot the S.O.B.? SHOOT HIM DEAD!"
I mean, that would be a perfectly normal reaction. And Ann's research assistant would not be out of line if she nodded her head vigorously and chimed in: "Right on. Blow him away. Absolutely."
But Ann Landers is not into violence, no sir. Ann Landers is not the sort of advice columnist who panders to the visceral emotions in all of us. She simply won't tell a reader to run willy-nilly down to the local sporting goods store and pick out a little something from the Remington display case along with a box of shells.
Instead, she'll usually reply with something suitably restrained, such as:
"Dear Unlucky at Love,
"Tell this jerk to hit the road. And get yourself another boyfriend -- preferably one who doesn't do that bit with the thumbs in his ears."
Another thing I love about Ann Landers: She never backs away from a fight.
Which isn't to say she won't admit to being wrong. When she screws up royally as she's done on occasion -- say she tells someone not to worry about how his parrot and cat get along and they end up taking the parrot out in a body bag -- she'll give herself the proverbial 40 lashes with a wet noodle or however that corny expression goes.
But if you start calling Ann Landers names, don't expect to see her cower and melt into the wallpaper.
Are you kidding? This is a woman who loves a good rip-snorting brawl in print.
This is a woman who calls men Buster. And women Toots. Is that beautiful or what?
This is one hell of a woman.