You doubt that hostility is billowing over in our modern world? Doris McClure Humphrey, of Rockville, knows better, and she has good reason.
On the morning of Feb. 22, Doris drove to a dental appointment near her home. She parked alongside a "large pickup truck, which was unoccupied."
When her appointment was finished, she returned to her car. The pickup truck was gone, but a letter had been left on her front seat. It was hand-printed and unsigned. It said:
"I was sitting in my vehicle when you got out and let your door hit my car. I watched you not even care about it. I was going to kick a big dent into your door. Just because you don't take care of your car doesn't mean no one else does. The reason I parked so far away is so some moron wouldn't do what you did."
Doris immediately checked to see whether she was the proud owner of a big dent. She wasn't. Still, "I wonder what sort of person would write an unsigned threatening note like that and then leave it in the wrong car," Doris writes.
I wonder what sort of person would get so excited about the limited damage a car door can do to the body of another car. In this crowded world, nicks and dents are going to happen. Get used to it, friend.
And get used to the solution. My car doors have been nicked many times, and the answer is a can of touch-up paint. Average cost: about six bucks. The parts department of any dealership will stock it. Balm for your doors and your tortured soul.
Last month in this column, I returned to the thrilling days of yesteryear -- thanks to a report card. It was mailed to me by Sam Stetson, of Arlington, who had been in the sixth grade in 1935-36 at Ross School in the District. His teacher was L.S. Webb.
She, and many teachers in that era, ran a tight ship. Cleanliness and penmanship were highly valued. So were neatness and good posture. The report card, and the grades upon it, proved the case. How strikingly different from the slouching and sloth of today.
I never dreamed that L.S. Webb would see that column, or that she would be around to see it. But Loretta Wilson (her married name) is still very much with us, and still very much in love with teaching.
She spent 35 years in the D.C. public schools, retiring in 1966. For most of those years, she was a fifth-grade teacher at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Northwest Washington. She retired because "my husband had died, and I just couldn't go to school and come home every day." She lives with a daughter in Laytonsville.
According to the report card I saw, L.S. Webb flunked Sam in cleanliness because his desk was a mess. So I speculated that she must have gone on to a glorious career as a drill sergeant in the Marines.
Loretta scoffed at that idea. "I'm about 5-feet-1, and I weigh just about 100 pounds," she told me. "The Marines would never have wanted me."
Still, discipline was always her stock in trade.
"On the first day of school, every year," she said, "I would say that education is the biggest business in the United States, and it should be run like a business."
When the students looked puzzled by that, she would say: "You have the workers, and you have the boss. I'm the boss. Don't ever forget it." According to Loretta, few students did.
"Teachers in my time could do more," Loretta said. "You had the parents' cooperation. That was the main thing."
She said she still misses the children and the classroom. "I had such wonderful students," she said. "I had Connie Chung. It was a wonderful career. I used to go back, and sometimes I would substitute just because I liked to do it."
She still remembers the glee club she started and led. "I loved it," she told me.
As I hung up the phone, I realized that it hadn't been toughness alone that saw this teacher through in the 1930s. It was toughness plus affection. Not a bad prescription for a 1990s classroom, either.
All right, puzzled people: Time to take you out of your misery.
In yesterday's column, I passed along two quizzes submitted by John Ferguson, of Silver Spring. Here they are again, in case you missed them.
Challenge One: When you spell out the names of the 50 states, which letter never occurs? Which two letters occur only once each? Which three letters occur only twice each?
Challenge Two: In spelling out the last names of the 42 U.S. presidents, which two letters never occur? Which letter occurs only once? Which letter occurs only twice?
Answers to Challenge One: Q, J and Z, B-F-X.
Answers to Challenge Two: Q and Z, X, P.
Jim Callis, of Northwest Washington, says a friend was complaining recently about an awful movie he had seen.
"Sex, violence, mayhem. Truly degrading," the friend said.
"Why didn't you get up and walk out?," Jim asked.
"The plane was still an hour from Dulles," the friend replied.