I’ve discovered over the years that the only drawback of writing a weekly column is one I never could have anticipated…people are afraid of me.
I’d be stretched out on a sunny beach in front of my 12-room villa on the Riviera right now if I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “You’re not going to write about this, are you?”
Because of people’s fears that I may quote them in my column, it’s sometimes difficult to carry on a normal conversation. For example, the other day one of my friends was telling me about her visit to a new hairdresser.
“My old stylist moved to Florida,” she said. “So in walked this new one, whose hair looked like she’d just wrestled with a wild mongoose! It didn’t exactly give me a lot of confidence in her!”
When I laughed, her eyes widened and the color rushed to her cheeks. “You’re not going to write that in your column, are you?”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I haven’t been to a hair stylist since Nixon was president, so I don’t think I’ll be writing a column about them any time soon. So did you like the new stylist?”
She shook her head and frowned. “I came out of there looking like a cross between Albert Einstein and a Chia Pet!”
Again, when I laughed, she shot a panicky look in my direction. “You’re not going to quote me or name the salon, are you? I don’t want to end up getting a letter from their lawyer!”
Not long ago, when I was out for my daily walk around the neighborhood, I met a couple who said they were regular readers of my column. Every time the woman uttered something her husband apparently thought I might embarrass them by quoting, he discreetly (but obviously not discreetly enough) gave her an elbow in the ribs. The poor woman probably still has bruises.
The truth is, if someone does say something funny, I often can’t resist quoting him or her in my column…but I try not to reveal any true identities. The only exception is my husband, one of my favorite targets. I quote him all the time.
“So, what did you write about me this week?” he usually asks.
If I say I didn’t write anything about him, he looks hurt and says, “And why not? Don’t you think I’m funny any more?”
What’s funny about him is he comes out with great one-liners, just ripe for the picking, yet he doesn’t even realize it. That’s because most of the time he’s talking to himself when he says them.
Just the other night I was in my office and he was relaxing in his recliner. He suddenly burst out singing an old Elvis song…very loudly. When he came to a part of the song he didn’t know, he made up his own lyrics.
“Everybody in the old cell block, was dancing to the Jailhouse Rock!” he sang. “The warden threw a party at the county jail – and, um, he hung up his pants on a rusty nail – and his hairy legs were really pale!”
My first thought was that poor Elvis probably was rolling over in his grave. My second thought was I hoped the neighbors’ windows weren’t open.
Thankfully, my husband, unlike other people, isn’t afraid of what I might write about him – nor does he care. Otherwise, he’d probably have divorced me back in 1995…and I’m pretty certain any judge would have told him he had more than sufficient grounds.
Going to social gatherings also can be awkward for me. When I arrived at a party a few weeks ago, one of the guests greeted me with, “Look out everybody! She’s a newspaper columnist! Be careful what you say because she’ll write about you!”
The crowd grew silent and everyone turned to stare at me as if they’d just been told I had a bad case of the chicken pox. Even the people who’d been chugging beers abruptly set them down, as if they feared I might write a column entitled, “The 10 Biggest Boozers I’ve Ever Met.”
So I guess it’s true that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, as the old saying goes. But I’ve discovered there’s also a plus side to inciting fear in people. If I call customer service to complain about a product, for example, and the employee gives me a hard time, I’ll calmly say, “That’s OK, I’ll just write about this whole incident in my newspaper column and let my readers decide who’s right.”
Works like a charm.