Dispatch from a parking lot encounter

'Character floss' has potential but still needs perfecting

Monday, December 7, 2009

Our dentist always said, "You don't have to floss all your teeth . . . only the ones you want to keep." Perhaps the same should be said about character flossing?

I was washing my hands in the ladies' room of the Bob Evans restaurant in Breezewood, Pa. On my left, perpendicular to the sink but a foot or two behind me, was a counter, where I had placed my Washington Post. No more than 30 seconds later (I swear!), I turned to pick up my paper. It was gone.

I gasped. My day was ruined.

My husband, Larry, and I were on our annual pilgrimage from Severna Park to Akron, Ohio, to visit our clan. We'd left the house at 8 and, as always, I grabbed The Post out of our box at the curb and threw it in the car. I had scanned the front section over Bob Evans's fluffy pancakes.

I dashed out of the ladies' room, jerking to a stop at the gift shop counter. "Somebody took my Washington Post!" I blurted out to the gray-haired clerk. "Did you happen to see a woman carrying a newspaper?" Her Bob Evans-trained smile remained fixed, but her vocal cords refused to respond. Maybe she was contemplating calling security -- not to catch a thief, but to remove this crazy customer from the premises. I didn't wait to find out. Threading my way among the sparkly pastel shirts and buckwheat neck pillows, I raced out the door. In the parking lot just a few feet ahead, I spotted a woman in a pink pants outfit about to climb into her car.

"Excuse me," I trilled. "Did you happen to see a Washington Post in the ladies' room?"

The lady turned to face me. She looked to be about 50, several inches shorter than I, and had a sweet, round face and rimless glasses. "Oh, no!" she wailed. "I just assumed someone left it there on purpose, and I thought, 'Well, I'd love to read The Washington Post.' I'm soooo sorry." She ducked the top half of herself into the back seat and retrieved my paper.

"Thank you so much," I gushed. "That's very kind of you." I tucked the paper under my arm and sprinted to our minivan, where Larry sat with the motor running. He gave me a funny look. "What was that all about?"

"You don't want to know," I muttered.

And that's the whole point. What had come over me, anyway? At what instant had I turned into a possessive banshee? What was I thinking, humiliating that poor, defenseless lady? The daily Post costs 75 cents (even less when you're a subscriber, as we have been for 20 years). I could have accessed it online at our sister-in-law's in Akron. But that would not have been the same as having the tangible pages spread out before me. After all, The Post is our daily breakfast guest, and I had barely begun to read it.

But none of this matters. What does matter is that this incident exposed me: I have a character flaw. And that's where my proposed invention enters the picture.

I plan to invent "character floss" -- to get rid of character flaws. It will be a packet of theoretical (or slightly magical) string or some other device that can perform on the same principle as dental floss. I'll use it to flick out my obnoxious behaviors the same way I floss my teeth after breakfast. With character floss, I can hone my personality to be so benevolent that, in the future, I will let the dear lady in the parking lot keep my Post. In fact, I won't even consider hunting her down.

This invention has such great potential that I'll market it to the whole world and donate the proceeds to hungry children everywhere. However, I do foresee one problem.

What if the device can be used to floss out not just your own character flaws, but someone else's? What if a friend or family member chooses to eliminate my talkativeness -- a behavior that I'm fond of, that I've lived with my whole life and cherish?

As you can see, my invention needs perfecting. But please be patient. I'm working on it.

-- Rosemary Mild

Severna Park

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