Knowing that I am the sort of person who's always on the lookout for a way to make a fast buck, a book agent called recently with a proposition.
At first, it seemed like an offer I couldn't refuse: Do a quick writing and research job on a book consisting of nothing but lists.
The money was good and, I reasoned, it couldn't be all that hard to compile lists of such items as the best and worst airlines, the best and worst jobs, the best and worst dogs.
Take that last category, for example.
Who doesn't know that the top three Worst Dogs to Have are the bichon frise (too hard to pronounce), the cocker spaniel (too eager to please) and any dog with white fur (too apt to look dirty and bedraggled all the time).
And who doesn't know that the Best Dog to Have is a dachshund. Dachshunds possess all the best traits: They are witty, easygoing, smart and short.
Which, come to think of it, is what anyone with any sense looks for in the Best Men to Have category.
And speaking of men, here are the Three Worst Things a Man Can Say to You:
"I like you but I don't love you."
"I love you but I don't like you."
"I don't like you and I don't love you."
And before I forget, here are the Three Worst Things a Man Can Tell You at the End of a First Date:
"I'll call you."
"I'll call you if my surgery goes well."
"I'll call you when I get back from my sabbatical in Alaska."
Of course, there are some men I wouldn't go out with twice even if you paid me a million dollars. Among them, the three top men are:
2. Maury Povich.
3. Sen. Alan Simpson.
On the other hand, the three top men I'd love to go out with are:
1. Martin Short.
2. Luciano Pavarotti.
3. Bart Simpson.
Actually, Bart Simpson reminds me of Jerry Baxter, a boy I really liked in the sixth grade who didn't like me back. In fact, Jerry was not nice to me. He made fun of my clothes and of the way I talked.
Which leads to the category of the Worst Insults a Man You Like Can Say to You. Leading the list are:
"Have you ever tried wearing jeans with a wide-fitting leg?"
"Your best friend Martha is beautiful."
"You are certainly aging well."
And speaking of aging, if you're tired of being kept awake by loud, unruly teen-agers who are hanging around the local 7-Eleven, here are the Three Best Songs to Drive Teen-agers Away:
"Mandy" by Barry Manilow.
"My Man" by Mantovani.
"The 21st Piano Concerto" by Mozart.
Some Best and Worst Categories, I realize, will pose more of a challenge than those I have listed so far.
Categories such as Best and Worst States for Manufacturing. Best and Worst States If You Have to Go to Prison. Best and Worst Regional Food Crops. Best and Worst Manufacturers of Surgical Instruments. Best and Worst Cat Toys.
In the matter of this last category -- Best and Worst Cat Toys -- I do have some considerable expertise. And I feel quite confident in listing the Top Best Cat Toys as:
1. An expensive silk blouse.
2. An expensive upholstered sofa or chair.
3. An expensive wristwatch.
4. A wadded-up piece of tinfoil.
On the other hand, the Absolute Worst Cat Toys are:
1. Any cat toy that requires your cat to have an attention span of more than 30 seconds.
2. Any cat toy made especially to amuse cats.
Which brings us -- rather nicely, I think -- to the Best and Worst Cat Names. The worst cat names are the generic ones. Names such as:
3. Blackie or Whitey.
The best cat names, as T. S. Eliot pointed out, are those that are particular. Therefore, the Best Cat Names -- and I have personally known the possessors of these names -- are:
1. Madame Bovary.
2. Marvin Gardens.
3. Jack the Ripper.
So many lists. So many Worsts. So many Bests. The head swirls with possibilities. The Ten People Who Treated Me Best. The Ten People I Trusted the Most Who Let Me Down. The Best Friends I Ever Had. The Worst Friends I Ever Had.
I've sent it all off to the book agent. Now it is up to her to decide if it's the Best List of Lists she's ever seen. Or the Worst.