Great Balls O’ Fire!


In the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge, I’d like to toast you with a glass of seasonal schadenfreude. (I know—I always have to look up that word, too. I get it confused with sangfroid and Sigmund Freud, but it seems to mean pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune—which in this case would be mine.)

Having my e-mail address published at the bottom of this column is a mixed blessing. While I get a lot of friendly letters, I also get some that set my hard drive afire. Let me share a few with you.

When last October I ran a column questioning the wisdom of people who put “For Sale by Owner” and other signs on their front lawns, I thought it was fairly innocuous, but one reader disagreed:

“I have seldom been so offended as by your column in this week’s Southampton Press,” she wrote. “Are you aware that we are in the midst of an economic crisis? That housing prices are plummeting? And yet you pick this moment to criticize people trying to save tens of thousands of dollars by selling their own homes? Have you had your head in the sand (or perhaps somewhere else)?”

On a roll, she continued: “As for the rest of your pithy little observations, I found them neither clever nor amusing. Your derisive suggestion that people living in bungalows”—to which they’ve attached precious names—“don’t have the same right to feel pride in their homes as people living in estates was haughty, elitist and just downright nasty. As for your rant about people who put colorful flags in front of their homes, it seems to me that you believe that people who don’t share your ‘idea of pretty’ have no right to decorate their homes. And, finally, if you were my neighbor, I might put up a ‘no trespassing sign’ too, if only to avoid the attentions of such a pompous, judgmental ass as yourself.”

I’m surprised she didn’t conclude: “Strong note to follow.”

The election brought out some readers’ thornier nature. After I suggested that John McCain might select Linda Kabot as his running mate instead of Sarah Palin, I got this from a man in Riverhead:

“It’s amazing how Obama and liberal mouthpieces (like yourself) have spun themselves into a tizzy over the choice of Sarah Palin for VP. She is a very capable candidate in her own right. The media attacks have only galvanized many voters to rally to Palin’s defense. So go ahead, keep attacking, I’ll be laughing all the way [to] another GOP victory in Nov.”

This writer CC’ed The Press’s advertising manager to say that he didn’t know why he bothered advertising in such a “liberal rag,” which is a question that, as far as I know, remains unanswered.

Sometimes the frothing veers into apoplexy:

“The Religious right—the majority of us—are solid citizens, intellects and patriots … not condescending, ego-centered elitists like you! You will lose and will continue to lose because you are angry and misguided. LLLLLLOSER watch and see!!! Let’s look into Marxism, Black Liberation, anti-white philosophy, Chicago Thug Politics, Wm Ayres, et al. You don’t have a chance!!!!!! America—real America—sees through BO, and I do mean phew! BO!!!!!”

That’s from an East-Ender. Imagine what a white Alabaman might have written.

I try to answer all my e-mails, and sometimes that gets me into trouble. When I responded to a critic who disagreed with my defense of gay marriage, it triggered so much bile that I finally had to put a block on his address. (I think that’s the first time I’ve had to do that.)

Of course, it’s cruel to ridicule these writers (although, frankly, it’s kind of fun), but I have noticed that when I get attacked from the right, the letters are often vicious to the point of incoherence. Attacks from the left are usually more grammatical. (And lest you think that’s just more of my liberal blather, conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has noted the same thing. There’s a lot of anger out there in Limbaugh Land.)

Believe it or not, not all my correspondence is nasty. I get letters from some people who actually like what I write. In fact, some of my correspondents seem to be such soulmates that I’m tempted to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, let’s go have a cup of coffee sometime!”

But that’s something a columnist learns never to do. We’ve all read Nathaniel West’s “Miss Lonelyhearts”—the story of a columnist who gets too emotionally involved with his readers—and realize that such encounters rarely turn out well.

So to friends and critics alike, I say, from what I hope is a safe distance, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And be glad you’re not a columnist.


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