For a computer software engineer, Carrie McCairn sure knew how to lead a witness.
"Bob Levey, have you ever used the word `like' in one of your columns?" she asked.
"Likely," I replied.
"Have you ever misused the word `like' in one of your columns?"
"I'm, like, no," I said, as a modern-day teenager might.
Carrie proceeded to go, like, bananas.
"That's exactly the way my daughters talk, all day long!" she shrieked. "I simply cannot stand it anymore! I need help -- and I thought you might be able to give me some, Bob."
We two like-addled parents spent the next 20 minutes cogitating and strategizing. We turn out to have five children between us. All are likesters. None can go three minutes without misusing and overusing the word. Sometimes, none can go three seconds.
I told Carrie that there is at least a ray of hope on our family's horizon. I have never yet seen my children write like-talk the way they talk like-talk. Their parents and teachers have been spared the likes (!) of "fourscore and, like, seven years ago."
But Carrie says that, verbally, her three daughters are a river that has overflowed its banks.
"Just for the heck of it, I counted one night, while the three of them made phone calls to their friends," she said. "Would you care to guess?"
"Two hours of calls?"
"A hundred `likes.' "
"Three hundred and fifteen," said Carrie.
When she confronted her daughters with that total, they became "snotty," she said. "One of my daughters said, in a very mocking way, `Oh, my God, mother-r-r-r, it's becoming, like, a cultural emergency.' "
I told Carrie that the business of America is business, so the cure probably has to be based on money.
"We once tried a system of fines in our house," I said. "A nickel for every grammatically incorrect `like.' "
"Did it work?" Carrie asked.
"In a way," I said. "Our daughter quickly went through an entire week's allowance. But then she begged for another chance." A few bats of those brown eyes and Dad was, like, dust.
Carrie wondered if public humiliation might be an answer. "You know how the early settlers in Williamsburg used the stocks to let criminals fester in public?" she asked. "Maybe something like that."
That approach, too, has been tried and shelved in our house, I told Carrie.
I came up with a system of finger signals. Every time a Levey child misused "like," I'd form a thumb and forefinger into a capital L.
But like patients who develop an immunity to medication, our kids stopped responding to "finger L's." I never came up with a better mousetrap, other than sighs and raised eyebrows, I told Carrie.
Carrie asked if I'd poll my readers to see if any parents have successfully weaned their children from the like-orice stick (sorry!). I said I'd be delighted.
Come on with those brainstorms, parents. My address is Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071. My fax number is 202-334-5150. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, teenagers are welcome to weigh in, too. Nothing like solutions from the belly of the beast.
SEND A KID TO CAMP
"No Name Please" gets it so totally right that I don't need to adorn her words. She sent a hefty check to support our annual Send a Kid to Camp fund-raising campaign and a note that said:
"As you know, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of worthy charities. And who's to say which one is worthier?
"Send a Kid to Camp stands out because it's directly about kids."
Indeed so, kind lady. Other charities rake off a piece of each dollar for overhead, swanky conventions, training programs, carpets, drapes and further fund-raising. Send a Kid to Camp does none of those. Every dollar you contribute helps put a needy child in the country for part of the summer.
We are eight days away from the end of our 1999 campaign. We remain far short of our goal. If you haven't yet made a contribution, I hope you'll do so today, while my "noodge" is fresh in your minds. Hundreds of local children are counting on you.
Our goal by July 30: $550,000.
In hand as of June 16: $270,136.22.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.