Brilliant people write the best letters, while wackos' words are meaningless

March 06, 1997|By Kevin Cowherd

THOUGH WE LIVE in a time of e-mail and voice-mail and faxes, newspaper columnists (yes, even this one) still get lots of regular mail.

Basically, this mail can be divided into two categories: letters that make sense -- in which the columnist is recognized as a literary giant and clear-thinking visionary -- and letters from wackos, a wacko being anyone who disagrees with the columnist.

An example of a good letter would be the following:

Dear Sir,

Your column on how Americans clutter their bathrooms was the funniest and most insightful ever written on the subject. We were feeling a little down after a tornado wiped out our house and thieves made off with our life's savings and our little dog, Sam, ended up in North Dakota.

But reading that bathroom piece, why, we just laughed and laughed! It made us realize we have a lot to be thankful for.


Sonny and Marge Lawson

P.S. -- If you should ever find yourself on Maryland's Eastern Shore, stop by Sonny's Exxon and say hello. We'll make sure you leave with a full tank of premium gasoline and one of Marge's famous coconut-custard pies!

On the other hand, letters from wackos tend to go something like this:

Dear Sir,

After dredging the local fishwrap out of our prize azaleas, where our slovenly, moon-faced deliverer had tossed it as per usual, I came upon your just-out-of-San-Quentin visage and a column about people who work in video rental stores.

Reading this drivel, I lost a good part of my breakfast right there. "Dull-eyed members of the re-wind Gestapo" -- was this supposed to be funny? I was not amused.

Regrettably, Bill "William" Evans (former Blockbuster manager)

P.S. Please cancel my subscription.

P.P.S. By any chance, would you have the phone number for the New York Times?

Sometimes, the envelope alone offers subtle clues to the columnist as to the tone of the letter within.

Generally speaking, an envelope without a return address is trouble, as is any envelope addressed in crayon, the favored handwriting implement of the unhinged.

Conversely, an envelope with a flower border, or one in which the "i's" are dotted with smiley faces, is a good sign -- although reading an entire letter full of "i's" dotted with smiley faces will make you want to tear the wings off a butterfly.

One thing I've discovered in 16 years of column-writing is this: No matter what you write, it will offend someone.

You could write a column about Mother Teresa ("A smiling Mother Teresa opened another orphanage in Calcutta yesterday ") and the letters would come pouring in:

Dear Sir,

Perhaps it would surprise you and the rest of the clueless hacks at that rag to know there are many of us who simply can't smile, due to advanced gum and periodontal disease.

To have this ailment cruelly thrown in our faces is something we don't expect when we pick up the morning newspaper. Please be more considerate.

Dear Sir,

What does The Sun have against orphans? Never missing a chance to resurrect the popular stereotype of soot-covered street urchins with lice-infested scalp living in Dickensian squalor, you have again made these poor unfortunates feel different and isolated.

Couldn't your column have read: "A smiling Mother Teresa opened a facility in Calcutta yesterday where all are welcome, but particularly children deprived by death of both parents?'

Dear Sir,

Why is it necessary to write about events that take place halfway around the world? There are plenty of folks performing good deeds right here in Maryland. If you'd only get off your fat duff and drive out to Carroll County and visit our beautiful veterinary hospital, you'd know that.

Dear Sir,

My wife and I were disappointed to read your column on Mother Teresa, in which you made no mention of the recent Grammy Awards. Was this done intentionally? If so, you slighted millions of contemporary music fans and an apology is in order.

And they wonder why I occasionally take a drink.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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