There was a moment in my life I was unemployed. I received unemployment checks for some weeks before I was handed a job interview with The Carolina Peacemaker, the black weekly newspaper in Greensboro, N.C. The fact that I was white seemed to make no difference. Neither did the fact I had no journalism experience at all.
Initially, the paper was looking for a photojournalist — actually, they just needed someone who could process film. When they hired me, they asked if I could write, too, and within a few months, I was “news director,” a title that sounds a whole lot more impressive than the reality. Reality was a staff of me and one other writer, a secretary, a typist, an ad salesman and Mike Feeney, a cynical Irishman and washed-out New York Times reporter who came in once a week to lay the paper out. He spent his spare time in his office drinking bad coffee and filling out the Times crossword puzzle in ink, without ever needing to use any of the “down” clues. It was like filling in an application blank. His desk was piled with ancient moldy paper coffee cups, with dehydrated grounds in the bottom, along with crushed out cigarettes. There must have been a hundred of them. I don’t know why he chose not to throw them out.
When Feeney quit, I became “managing editor,” although all that meant was that I had more work. I edited all the copy, wrote all the headlines, laid out the paper each week, developed all the photographs, sized them and sent the works out to the printer.
I also wrote many of the stories, and all of the editorials. It may seem strange that a white guy should be writing editorials telling the black population of Greensboro who to vote for, but I have to say that I never felt the slightest sense of resentment or mistrust. The paper never hid the fact that I was not African-American, and I had excellent relations with everyone I met in the black community.
But it wasn’t only editorials and news stories. A few years after I got there, the woman who wrote the advice to the lovelorn column retired, and I inherited the “Dear Carol” spot. I also became the “Kitchen Magician,” and wrote a weekly cooking column.
I have to say I had fun with Dear Carol. I created a distinct personality for her: She was a militant black feminist. I knew her entire biography, where she was born, who her father and mother were, where she went to school — the whole nine yards. I didn’t need to invent her: She was there, inside me waiting to get out.
But the most amazing part of the “Dear Carol” column was that I didn’t only have to write the answers to the letters, I had to write the letters, also.
Week after week, I concocted letters with some of the oddest and most peculiar personal problems I could think of. I had a ball.
Here are a few of them:
There is this really cute guy in the office where I work. He is a salesman and I am a secretary. But though he is friendly, and I think we could really get together, I worry about him because he wears the most disgustingly loud ties. And his socks never match. In fact, I don’t see how he can be the successful salesman he is when he shows such miserable taste in his clothes.
I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but a book doesn’t choose its cover. This guy chooses his gold lame neckties.
Should I try to become used to his clothes, or should I forget about him and look for someone else?
— My Clothes Match
Why aren’t you a saleswoman? You have more class than this dodo that’s pulling in the loot, but you type his ungrammatical letters.
There are three ways to be about clothes. One is to be oblivious. Many people just don’t care what they look like. Clothes just aren’t important. If they keep one from being arrested or from catching pneumonia, that’s enough.
Another whole group of people love clothes and they love the way they look in the latest fashions. They know how to dress and they do it. You can see them not only on the neon disco floor, but even in church on Sunday mornings. These people just look classy.
Then there is our salesman. He apparently wants to dress well, but doesn’t know the first thing about style. He should just relapse to the first phase and not care about his clothes. When he tries to look good, he becomes a joke. Plainness is better than gaud.
The choice is yours. Do you want a turkey who looks like a Reynolds Wrap mummy, or do you want some other turkey?
If I were you, I would just bide my time and not worry about men. When you find the right kind of man, it will be soon enough. In the meantime, you just don’t need one.
ON THE MAKE
I am a salesman for a small business and my boss is a woman. I can get along with a woman boss just fine, that doesn’t bother me. In fact, she’s real good at what she does. But she has made advances to me that are more than suggestive. They are downright rough. If she had her way, the janitor’s closet in our building would be a mighty busy place.
But she is not my type, and besides, I’m married. My wife is a quiet sort who hasn’t been around much.
My boss has been a round a lot. Especially around my desk, chasing me. Will I have to quit my job?
–Chased, so far
Don’t quit good job merely for personality problems. If you enjoy your career and you are making a good living, don’t blow it just because of one lecherous boss. If she is really good at her job, she will be promoted or will change companies as she rises in management. Then your problems will be gone. Until then, realize that her attentions are only a nuisance. Let her know that you are satisfied in your marriage and tell her she is bothering you.
And when you make it into a management position, remember your lesson and don’t bother the women you supervise. It’s a two-way street. I know.
NOT SINCE HIGH SCHOOL?
Boy, do I ever have a problem.
I am getting married next month to the man I’ve been engaged to for two years. We have a good relationship and I love him a whole lot.
We have always had a good sex life and we enjoy each other a lot. But I am pregnant. (That’s no problem since we both want a lot of kids).
But the problem is that several months ago, I decided that if I was going to be married, I should get out and have a last fling. Things got a little out of hand and I made it with 16 different guys in a week period. It was during that time I got pregnant. Now, I don’t know if the baby will be my fiance’s or not.
So far, the notorious week has been a secret, though I don’t know how. I haven’t done anything like that since high school. But should I tell my man or not?
I just don’t know what got into me.
First of all, don’t ever say a thing about it. You will only cause pain for the one you love. It is spilt milk, so forget it.
Second, don’t ever let it happen again. If you’ve been with this guy for two years and having “a good sex life,” you are as good as living together and in my book, that is the same as marriage. And marriage requires trust. If you aim to make it safely through the many years you have left, you will have to give some reason for your hubby to trust you.
Of course, the same thing goes for him. I don’t want to leave the men off the hook.
They probably need to listen to this advice more than most women.
With a child on the way and a marriage upcoming, you will need a whole lot more maturity than you showed several months ago. You will have to be more circumspect as a mother.
But what in the world did you do in high school?
THE RAT COMES HOME
I am in a rage. The man I have been seeing for five years is seeing another woman. My man is married and his wife never knew about us. We kept a good secret, but now I find my man has been keeping a secret from me, too.
I got so mad that I told his wife about his affair with the third woman, but I still haven’t told her about us. His wife threw him out of the house for playing around with the other woman and the rat has come to me asking for a place to stay. The whole thing is a mess.
Well, I just want to say that for the first time ever, I understand the wife’s point of view. It hurts. But should I keep the rat, or let him drown?
— Tables Turned
You should have learned your lesson by now. The rat won’t drown, he’ll just ask a fourth or fifth girlfriend for a place to stay. He may have already. Did it ever occur to you that he may have been turned out by other girlfriends before he even asked you? Forget him. And clean up your own act.
My wife embarrasses me every time we go out. She has a nasty habit of smoking cigars. She likes those imported Italian cigars that are triple-dipped in asphalt and she smokes one with a cup of coffee after dinner. That is not so bad at home, but she does it when we are visiting friends and relatives.
My mother never liked my wife, and now this only seems to confirm, for my mother, the nasty things she has thought all along. But aside from the cigars, my wife is wonderful. I love her very much and don’t want to lose her. What can I do?
— Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Cigar smoking is unusual in a woman. I dislike all smoking and try to convince everybody to stop. I’d try to convince your wife to stop, too, but I doubt it would work. Best thing is for you to do is talk it over with her. Compromise and let her smoke among certain friends that are used to her, and ask her to forego the stinkers when you visit relatives, especially the worried mother. I know how that can be.
Just remember that several great women smoked cigars, though I doubt George Sand smoked those Italian jobs.
My son is in college now, studying art. For Christmas last year, he gave us a huge painting to put over the couch. This canvas in the frame is at least six feet long. But Carol, the painting is terrible! It is six feet of modern abstraction, all bright blue, red and green. It looks like a wreck between a paint truck and a ketchup factory. It has been hanging up there since Christmas and I can’t take it anymore.
I thought that after a few months I could get used to it, but I don’t think several decades would help. I don’t want to hurt my son’s feelings, but I can’t stand the pain in my eyeballs anymore.
What can I do?
–No Whistler’s Mother
I sympathize with you. I once received a hall clock that was a statue of a naked lady with a clock in her belly. It was too big to put in my hall and so I finally put it in a large dumpster.
But your problem is that it is your son who gave you the painting and the only way to handle the problem tactfully is to ask him to paint you a new one. If you flatter him into painting a new one, then it can take the place of the old one. Give yourself several months to get used to whatever he paints. Give the old one to his father and let him worry about where it might fit in his workshop.
HER MAN IS A PICKY EATER
My boyfriend is such a picky eater. He won’t touch most anything that normal people eat.
He eats peanutbutter and marshmallow sandwiches and mashed potatoes stirred up with mustard, but practically nothing else.
His mother always let him get away with being picky when he grew up, and now I think he’ll never change.
One the other hand, I enjoy good foods. I go crazy in a Japanese restaurant or around a food processor. I love nice cookware and I own a beautiful set of carbon steel chef knives.
Well, my boyfriend and I are thinking about getting married, and I wonder if our eating habits will cause any trouble. Do you think I have something to worry about?
It might cause a problem at first, but as the years go on and on and you fall into a common marriage pattern, you won’t be eating together anyway, so it will make no difference.
You will wind up eating salads or soup alone and hubby will come home late and fix a P-butter and Marshmallow sandwich and sit down in front of the tube.
Mothers — When your children are young, make them eat at least a bit of everything that you serve. If a kid hates mashed rutabaga, make her eat one spoonful every time you make it. In a few years, rutabaga will be among her favorite vegetables.
A kid can’t complain about one spoonful, and almost any food problem can eventually be overcome this way. Start early with your children and they will lead fuller, happier lives.
I know. My mom made me eat rutabaga.
I CHEATED, BUT NOW MY WIFE WANTS A TRIAD!
I’ve been married for ten years and have no children (by choice) and I have always gotten along with my wife. In those ten years we have never had a fight.
But as I hit my 35th birthday, I began to wonder where my life was going and I began to be afraid that I would be caught in a dull life. So when the opportunity arose to cheat on my wife, I took it.
The other woman was a waitress with huge beautiful brown eyes and a pair of legs that belongs in the Guinness Book of Records. But she was only 19 years old.
Now I knew that a lot of men go through what I did and I know a lot of wives find out about it, like mine did. But most wives either ask for a divorce, or make the big effort to forgive. My wife has a different idea. She wants all three of us to live together.
She went to the restaurant to talk to the other woman and they liked each other. My wife told her that even though she was jealous, she would control it and that she would like to find out what I would do if we all lived together.
What I’m doing is panicking.
Now a lot of guys would get real excited about living with two women and I agree it has its points, but what most men don’t consider is what it would be like to have two women telling him to take out the garbage; two women telling him to mow the lawn; two mothers-in-law.
If I had my choice, I would just go back to my wife and things would like they always were. My life is no longer dull, but I don’t think I can manage this a trois.
–Off The Pace
Now you know what life is like in the fast lane and you are coughing exhaust fumes.
I think your wife is trying to teach you a lesson and it sounds like it’s a lesson you’ll never forget. Now you know the grass on the other side of the fence will only get you in trouble.
Pardon me while I gloat.
I’m sure that if you explain to your wife how you feel and if you promise to be a good boy and not do it again, she will let you off the hook. Personally, I marvel at the ingenuity of your wife. She must know just how to make you suffer.
I lost a part of my thumb in a mill accident several years ago. That is not a problem by itself, but I love bowling and my bowling ball has only two holes drilled into it.
Many years ago, a lot of people had ball with only two holes, but most of the buys in my league don’t remember that and they make fun of my bowling ball.
I know I’m being touchy about it, but they make the same jokes all the time and it gets on my nerves. “Hey, thumbs up, Bill,” they yell at me across the lanes. Last Christmas the guys on my team took up a collection and bought me another hole for my ball.
Am I being too sensitive?
Repetitious jokes can get on anyone’s nerves. What you need to do is talk to your team next time you bowl and tell them how you feel.
Don’t make a big thing of it, just say quietly, “I know you fellows mean well, but I’m sensitive about this matter and I wish you wouldn’t make jokes any more about my ball or my thumb.” That’s all there is to it. Most people are mean only for thoughtlessness. If they know the score, they will go ten frames for you.