No Shot, Sherlock
Gene flexes his deductive skills

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, November 19, 2006

The principal difference between us journalists and ordinary people is that we journalists will shamelessly flaunt our abilities to use "we" and "us" correctly.

Actually, there is a more significant distinction: Compared with you, we have more finely honed observational skills. This is not meant to be critical; it just so happens that some people are Sherlocks, and others are Watsons -- knuckleheaded, mealy-mouthed, jowly, boring sidekicks.

I was thinking about this the other day when, out on a walk with my dog, I found a little black book. It was someone's address book; the owner's name didn't appear to be in it. I realized this would be an excellent opportunity to flex my deductive skills. Merely on the basis of the names in the book, I decided, I would create a full and accurate profile of the owner and then confirm it with a few phone calls.

The first thing I noticed -- this was key -- is that the entries were alphabetized not by last name but by first name. This rather quaint and charming conceit bespoke warmth and intimacy, and thus screamed "woman" to me. A man might refer to a friend as "Jones," but a woman talks about "Sally," who shouldn't be going out with that jerk Tom because he's all wrong for her.

My suspicion was confirmed when I found someone's name listed above the names and birthdays of her four children. (The Manual for the Modern Sensitive Male doesn't even have a chapter on having to know the birthdays of anyone else's kids. You are only required to know your own kids' birthdays, up to three.)

So, the "woman" part was easy enough. Even you might have bumbled along that far. But what kind of woman?

There were clues. I noticed that some of the names were carefully written, but some were scrawled in what appeared to be an unsteady hand. Perhaps a late-night-party-girl unsteady hand? And, yes, she's been around -- there were phone numbers from happening cities such as Los Angeles and New Orleans. Also, wedged in the pages was a business card for a photographer.

I turned my attention to other names, and found myself drawn to one in particular. Figuring there could be only one "Rock Rutley" in San Diego, I Googled him. He's a big-shot, surfer-dude cosmetic dentist, with a subspecialty in athletes!

So, recapping (as it were), we have a woman with perfect teeth and the money to obtain them -- a sophisticated woman who enjoys a good time and who is professionally photographed. Ergo, a model or an actress. And possibly an athlete, too, meaning a woman who might be able to watch a football game with you without once asking what inning it is, or why the referees' uniforms are so unattractive, or, 30 minutes into the game, "Which team are we rooting for, again?"

I'm guessing she's between 23 and 34, with chestnut hair. (Some of it is just reporter's intuition.)

At this point, I decided that journalistic protocols might require me to return this book personally. It only took a few calls to find my gal.

Her name is . . . Chip. He sells fruits and vegetables from an outdoor produce stand near my house.

Chip is my age, 55. He hawks veggies because it's a cash business, and he's still getting an unemployment check he doesn't want jeopardized. He's also a bartender who works at night, which explains the occasional in-the-dark scrawls. Those are his sister's kids' birthdays, because Uncle Chip had better damned well remember them, and he needs the help because his memory is lousy; for example, he can never remember people's last names, hence the first-name system.

The Dentist to the Stars? Chip and Rock Rutley were bartenders together years ago, when Rock was earning money to put himself through dental school. He worked on Chip's teeth real cheap, which was cool even if he didn't really know what he was doing yet. New Orleans? Chip once almost got popped there on charges of heisting a car, which was definitely a bum rap.

Okay, then. So my deductive abilities took a bit of a hit. So what? Us journalists can always fall back on the grammatical skills that got we where us are today.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.

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