While many of us in the newsroom assume we know everything, we still get a kick out of old-school advice columns. We run "Dear Abby" in these pages, and we still hear howls of dismay from readers who miss Carolyn Hax's words of wisdom. Those columnists truly seem interested in the plight of their readers - from deadbeat spouses to layabout children to the rules of engagement, Abby et al sort it with aplomb and kindness.
Sometimes too much kindness, if you ask us. Some folks need a little tough love; that's why we recently fished out some doozies that ran in "Dear Abby" and the Washington Post's "Ask Amy" column and turned them over to Dear Crabby.
DEAR ABBY: How does one send a thank-you note for a really, really bad "re-gift"? This Christmas I received a battered box with old, wrinkled, ripped tissue paper thrown in with a couple of items that appeared to be part of another gift. It looked like a food gift basket had been divided and piecemealed out to make more gifts.
It is hurtful and insulting to be on the receiving end of something that's not even "giftworthy." I say, why bother at all. Please advise.
- Anony-Miss out West
DEAR MISS OUT WEST: So you ended up with the sausage roll and a used cutting board but not the bottle of wine and the aged cheddar, right? Well, go to your local post office and look for the recycling bin. This is where folks toss their junk mail, and you can usually find some awful greeting cards among the catalogs. (Never Victoria's Secret; I've looked.) Use one as thank-you note, by which you'll have re-gifted in return.
DEAR ABBY: Please allow me to share a dating technique with your readers that has saved me a lot of relationship headaches. I call it "the 90-day rule."
Whenever I start dating someone, I try to see them at least once a week for 90 days. That way, if there are any character flaws, I find out within the first 90 days.
Among the flaws I've discovered: drug dealing and addiction, alcoholism, driving without a valid license and with illegal license tags, and lying about their occupation.
The idea is to avoid sexual intimacy during those first 90 days to keep your head clear. If you are intimate too soon, you'll find yourself making excuses for your partner. This technique has never failed me - unless I made an exception.
May I suggest your readers try this 90-day rule? If they do, I promise they won't be disappointed because it takes TIME to get to know someone. Before you can love someone, you must learn who that person really is.
- Clearheaded in Clearwater, Fla.
DEAR CLEARHEADED: First, a 90-day trial period is a little too long. What are you, Sears? What if, as you report, you turn up yet another drug-dealing alcoholic with an expired license? You're going to wait it out for the whole 90 days to see just how seedy this chap is? At least you don't sleep with these people-still, lock up your valuables if, indeed, you bring these gems into your home within their trial period.
Now, have you noticed the trend with the gentlemen you seem to attract? I know plenty of longtime Singletons who have yet to get tangled up with any manner of criminals. Crazies, yes; criminals, not so much.
You get what you give, and it appears you're giving away a serious "I'm a giant, desperate pushover" vibe. Revisit just how "clearheaded" you are and start respecting yourself a little more-you'll get some back in less than 90 days. Promise.
DEAR ABBY: I have a beautiful wife, a dog and an 8-year-old son I love to watch sports with. My son loves sports, but he has trouble accepting a loss. He'll take out his disappointment by beating the dog.
My wife doesn't want to get rid of "Patches" because she has had him since college. I don't want to put my son through counseling because he said he'll hate me forever if I do. I'm afraid if the problem isn't controlled, my son's life goals may be affected. What can I do?
- Good dad in Cleveland
DEAR "GOOD" DAD: I'm not sure where to begin. First, you are not a good dad if you permit your child to act out so ghoulishly and let the dog bear the brunt of what sounds like a shameful aggressive display. Even if he beats the couch cushions over something valid, which a sporting match disappointment is NOT, I'd still tell you to get this little creep some help.
Furthermore, tell your wife she's equally remiss in her duties. If my kid beat my dog, and my husband was too afraid to do what is clearly the right thing, the both of you would be on a counselor's couch and the kid would be on dog-pile cleanup for the rest of his formative years.
You're also worried your child will hate you "forever?" Apparently you're also 8 years old, because that's an incredibly childish notion. Do you fall for the "I'll hold my breath until my face turns blue" routine, too? Grow up and get that kid to a counselor tout de suite. He'll remain a menace to himself, his family, that poor dog and society if you don't.
DEAR AMY: I am a 16-year-old with a great and supportive family. My twin brother and I are home-schooled by our mother. Recently one of my good friends and her mother came over to visit. My friend and I were looking at some websites for a game we enjoy playing. She began to show me some of the music she listens to and some of the videos that go with the music. I did not like the music or the videos.
For one, they scared me. I found them dark. The songs included cussing, which I feel ruins a song. I could not figure out how to say that I would really rather not listen to (or watch) those things. She's the type of person who gets angry and upset if you disagree with her. She said her mother had no idea she was listening to this stuff. I began to feel literally sick to my stomach.
How can I tell her I don't want her going on these websites on my computer?
I told my mom and dad about what happened, and my mom thinks that maybe I should tell my friend's mom, but I'm not sure.
- Worried about websites
DEAR WORRIED: What sort of music do YOU listen to? Jim Nabors? "Scared?!" "Cussing?!" "Literally" sick to your stomach?! Look, you little weirdo, it's time for some Tough Musical Love and a dose of cultural reality. There were more than 60,000 new albums released in 2012 - and only four of them didn't have "cuss" words or dark themes. These are the times we live in.
Now, it sounds as though you're growing up in a nostalgic, protective household where mom and dad probably require that you watch "The Donna Reed Show" and your idea of a "villain" is Fonzie. The best thing you can do is load up your iPod (a modern musical device that allows you to create your own private playlist) with Tupac and the Geto Boys, Slayer and Cannibal Corpse. Within a week, you'll tattoo your tongue black and legally change your name to "Snot."
Now, as for your friend's mom: is she hot?
DEAR ABBY: I work 40-plus hours a week and have a 3-year-old and two dogs. My good friend "Kate" has a 6-year-old, 2-year-old twins and a dog.
Her house is dirty. The bathroom is dusty and stained, and in the kitchen, dishes are piled in the sink. Would it be rude to offer her a few hours to clean up some key rooms? If not, how would I go about offering without being too blunt?
- Have Mop, Will Travel
DEAR HAVE MOP: Where have you been all my life? I will make you my bestie, like, NOW. Come on over and bring your most astringent cleaning materials with you. And maybe wear a Haz-Mat suit.
DEAR ABBY: The adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say ..." is easier said than done. When I am tired or stressed, I have a tendency to be less tolerant of others' quirks, and sometimes I voice my annoyance. While my opinions do have a basis, I sometimes feel guilty about insulting or hurting the person's feelings. I envy those who are strong enough to not allow the stress of certain situations to affect them.
I have never been a believer in "killing them with kindness" because that seems to enable their behavior. My intolerance is probably due to unhappiness about my own life. So how do I allow these annoyances to roll off my back and bite my tongue?
- Can't tolerate fools in Des Moines
DEAR CAN'T TOLERATE: First, you live in DES MOINES. What do you do for a living? Grow corn? You think maybe that contributes to your unhappiness? It also sounds like your blanket assessment that, well, just about everyone other than yourself is a "fool" indicates a sense of intellectual and moral superiority that is clearly WAY out of touch with the reality of the situation - which is that you are a smarmy ass.
However, you DID write in, signifying at least a token effort to improve. Here's a little trick that might help. Every time you feel the impulse to "voice annoyance" with one of the little people who conspire to irritate you, take off a shoe and drive a ten-penny nail through the muscle socket between your big toe and foot. Lord, it's gonna sting, I won't lie to you about that - but it also might make you think the next time you want to open your mouth!
DEAR ABBY: I have received several invitations to parties recently in which I was asked to do part of the work or participate in some of the expenses.
The one that really took the cake was to a party hosted by my boss. She had decided to celebrate her birthday at her house, and when I and my co-workers RSVP'd, we were asked what type of dish we planned to bring. We also discovered that only invited EMPLOYEES were asked to bring food. Her "real friends" weren't asked to bring anything. Needless to say, all but one employee remembered they had a "conflict."
If someone doesn't have the time or money to host a party, there are plenty of inexpensive foods, disposable tableware, etc., that can be used in a pleasant, cost-effective event without burdening invited guests. What matters is getting together to celebrate and socialize and have a good time with friends and family. Abby, your thoughts?
- Unhappy "guest" in Missouri
DEAR UNHAPPY: You want "to celebrate and socialize and have a good time with friends and family," as long as it's free. With the cost of food and booze it can be quite costly to have a group over to the house. Most people, when invited, actually offer to bring something. And then there's the likes of you, who complain when asked and then don't get invited again. Problem solved.
DEAR ABBY: I am an adult male with a longtime problem. Whether it's a sad or happy occasion, I start crying, sometimes sobbing. I try to avoid any situation that may cause this.
I am at a new point in my life where I can no longer avoid these situations. People think it's not normal. Please don't suggest I live with it. Is there a magic pill to control this?
- Big crybaby in Brooklyn, N.Y.
DEAR CRYBABY: Yes, it's called testosterone. Man up already!