Hate mail's OK tires are better

March 08, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd

Like every other columnist who belongs to the godless liberal media, I get my share of mail.

Much of this mail is from savvy, well-adjusted readers who recognize the cutting-edge humor regularly displayed in this space.

But some of the mail is from out-and-out wackos, a wacko in this case being anyone who disagrees with what I write.

An example of the sort of letter a columnist enjoys receiving is this:

"Dear Sir,

"Just a quick note to tell you how much your column means to me and the missus.

"We went through a rough stretch recently when my brother Clint backed his Chevy Blazer over my leg and Clara lost her job at the Hair Cuttery and Missy (that's our cat) stepped on a downed power line and took a quick 10,000 volts through each paw.

"Still, no matter how bad things were, we'd turn to your column and it was like pulling up the shade in a darkened room. We'd laugh and laugh and pretty soon we'd forget all our troubles.

"Simply put, you gave us a reason to go on living.

"Thank God things are better now. My hip cast came off yesterday and Clara says they're hiring down at the bottling plant.

"Even Missy is coming around again -- she doesn't twitch nearly as much now and that smokey odor that lingered around her for so long is just about gone.

"Keep up the great work!

"Your friend for life,

"Earl P. Neidermeir

"Arcadia, Pa.

"P.S. -- If you ever get up to this neck of the woods, stop in at Earl's Amoco and say hello. We'll hook your car up with four new radials (on the house!) and Clara will fix you a home-cooked meal that will take your breath away.

"It's the least we can do!"

As you can imagine, this sort of thoughtful letter brings a lump to the throat of even the most hard-bitten columnist.

Then the columnist thinks: Hmmm, where exactly is Arcadia, Pa.?

And even if it's two or three hours away, wouldn't it be worth a drive up there, particularly if those radials Earl mentioned happened to be Goodyear P225/75R15's?

The point is, if there were more readers such as Earl P. Neidermeir, this would be an easier job and the burn-out level (sorry, I don't have the figures in front of me) would not be nearly as high.

Unfortunately, a columnist also gets some negative mail, such as this letter I received the other day, written in the childish scrawl of someone who is obviously severely agitated:

"Dear Jerkface,

"I read your column in today's rag and was overcome with nausea, as I am whenever I wade through the drivel which you regularly inflict on your readers.

"Tell me, how does a hack like you hold on to his job? Do you have pictures of the publisher cavorting nude at a Holiday Inn with farm animals?

"Your humor (if that's the word) has that dim, claustrophobic, small-town feel and probably plays well in those places where ignorant rubes sit slack-jawed atop John Deere hay balers and the big news is the two-headed puppy born at Clem's place up the road apiece.

"I hate you and everything you stand for.

"With disgust,

"Mrs. Edith T. Contrapunto

"Baltimore.

"P.S. -- Would you be available for speaking engagements? Our garden club meets on the second Tuesday of every month and we currently find ourselves without a speaker for our April meeting."

Even though this letter did not come with an offer of free tires -- and contained a good deal of venom -- it can help a columnist grow.

I try to remember that whoever wrote the letter is an intelligent person with feelings who might simply be having a bad day.

Then I think: How can I get back at this miserable wretch?

Did she include a phone number, so that I may down seven or eight cups of strong coffee and call her at 7 in the morning to deliver a rambling, caffeine-fueled screed in defense of my work?

Or would it be better to simply jump in the car and show up at this person's door outfitted in full camouflage gear, with a thick smear of bootblack under each reddened, puffy eye and a 32-ounce can of malt liquor in one hand?

Very often, it's six of one, half-dozen of the other.

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