Once again, with zest and wisdom, wit and (from time to time) a dash of indignation, the readers' writes:
"So glad to see your column on comic books," Pat Haynie of Calvert County wrote of "Tzzak! Not Your Mom's 'Little Lulu'!" (March 15), about comic book creator Steve Conley. "My boys seemed to have them everywhere and also the baseball cards.
"I know how you feel as they have reminded me many times about throwing them away. I felt for your mother reading the column. How were we to know we were throwing away what would become collectors' items? Our small GI loan houses didn't have much storage or many closets and we were taught to be neatniks."
Here's one for the record book: "Congratulations on writing the most original personal ad I've ever seen in The Post," wrote an enterprising "Linda" about "The Big Burn" (Feb. 1), in which I burned my furniture during an ice storm before Valentine's Day.
"I'm a fellow writer/journalist with an interest in Jungian psychology. If I'm right about your intentions, conscious or not, let me know and I'd be happy to provide more details. Maybe there's a Valentine's date in your future after all."
There was, but not with dear Linda.
"Looking Out for a Killer" (Feb. 15), about finally having a colonoscopy, brought a number of letters. "You made them [colonoscopies] seem, well, not menacing at all--hardly--and you even added a bit about your own (natural) procrastination about having one," wrote Virginia Houston of Falls Church.
"My husband, Paul Houston, died almost five years ago from colon cancer. . . . My two daughters have known that they really should have a colonoscopy by age 30, and they're both dreading it. I'm sending them both copies of your column . . . to ease the way into the process of making an appointment before too long."
Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths, wrote Greg Larkin, a doctor and director of health services at Eli Lilly and Co. He added that his firm "is the only known employer that provides a paid screening colonoscopy exam for all health plan members over the age of 40. . . . The disease itself presents after 50 years of age, but the lesion takes on the average eight years to progress."
Two sharp-eyed readers, John F. Leary of Great Falls and Nancy Gallagher of Silver Spring, pointed out that the quote "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so," which I attributed to Ben Franklin in "Luck: With Friends Like These, Who Needs It?" (Nov. 22), is from Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.
Okay, Willie got there first.
"Novel Visions of an American Icon" (Dec. 7, 1998), in praise of author Donald Hamilton and "the great Matt Helm suspense series," prompted former English professor Morris Freedman of Hyattsville to recall the mid-1950s when Hamilton attended his class at the University of New Mexico. "It was in dramatic literature and he didn't early identify himself as a writer. . . . He was older than most of the other students and wore dark glasses in class and asked questions and made comments that verged on the impertinent.
"He made his identity known as Matt Helm's creator when he asked if he could modify my essay assignments to take the form of comments from editors to the authors of the plays we read. These turned out to be thoughtful, acidic, and irreverent, usually quite just, with little regard for the reputation of the writers.
"I ran into him once after the class in a dark Santa Fe restaurant that had been tarted up with red velvet walls, dark wood, and dimly lit chandeliers. . . . I remember him still with dark glasses, and, I'd swear, surrounded by what looked like starlets."
"It's always nice to read about someone who has vacationed at 'tar beach,' " former roofing contractor Jack Wagner wrote of "So the Roof Said to the Raindrop . . ." (Sept. 27), about my effort to save money by using roof cement on crumbling shingles. ". . . You can cast this in hardened roof cement: 'The less they know, the more tar they use.'
"By the way, next time just nail 90-pound granular roll roofing or even better, 19-inch selvage-edge (yet another form of asphalt) roofing over the existing self-locking shingles. You'll get another 10 years."
"Dads Need Prayers and Butter" (March 29), about a "politics of fatherhood" conference at Howard University and divinity school Dean Clarence G. Newsome's definition of fatherhood as a "dynamic pattern of seeding life through a creative process of love, nurture and care," brought a letter from Wade F. Horn of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
The Gaithersburg-based outfit, he wrote, uses pols, experts and celebs to "raise the awareness of every American that fathers make unique and irreplaceable contributions to the lives of their children."
On a nitty-gritty level, the NFI trains community activists "to combat father absence. . . . Through the development of skill-building information and community resource materials, we help individual men become better fathers, encourage employers [to allow] employees time to be better fathers, and assist local communities in developing father-friendly neighborhoods."
Think I'll call the kids.
Talley Lach of Bethesda Up ("Working for a Better Bethesda") naturally liked "Standing on the Corner, Staring Into the Pit" (Aug. 3), about watching a construction site in Bethesda. "I thought you might like to take a look at the 'construction' page on our Web site, www.bethesda.org/about/construction.htm. It has information about all of the ongoing projects."
I checked. It is way cool.
"A Time of Innocents in a Long-Lost World" (May 10), my post-Columbine reminiscence about discipline at Scottsdale High School in the 1950s, caused Millie Grant of Arlington to reflect on "how times and values have changed. . . . As I read the newspaper and watch television, I am thankful our five children are out of school."
Richard Andrews of Maryland made this point: "Firearms were a part of the everyday life of a larger proportion of 1950s Arizonans than they are of the much larger population of today. Barry Goldwater wrote of living in Scottsdale then and target practicing in his back yard.
"There were far fewer laws then on their purchase, ownership, carrying and use. World War II souvenir and surplus semiautomatic pistols and ammunition were available (by mail!) at dirt cheap prices. The idea that firearms are more accessible there today seems rather unlikely."
Rodney Shaw of Washington liked "The Goal of the Long-Distance Swimmer" (Jan. 4), about marathon swimmer R.E. "Bob" Cyrus Jr.'s life-affirming philosophy and his dream, in his seventies, of swimming the English Channel. "It is terrific to read a story like that when the news channels are currently filled with so much stuff about so many people who did not do well with their lives."
Shaw also tipped his hat to Post editors "for providing a work atmosphere in which this sort of writing is encouraged."
Ralph B. Harry of Arlington ripped out "A Coin's Tale: Some Things Never Change" (Oct. 25), circled the quip at the end about "how would I make a living?" if I had to mind my own business, and scrawled, "It shouldn't be by writing, with 3 grammatical errors in the first two paragraphs."
The offending material: "Back when I was a kid, before girls were part of the equation and Jim Laponis and me was still mainly interested in the speed and ramming capabilities of our red wagons. . . . Us and the other kids would go through our pocket change . . ."
Sharing Ralph Harry's viewpoint was Harry Miles, who--even though he "enjoyed" the column--wrote, "Pronoun insecurity is rampant in our culture. I assume that [the playful usages were] used by Phil McCombs to set the image of young kids. . . . As much fun as this may be, I think it adds to the general pronoun and agreement confusion. . . . We all have a responsibility to the language."
Okay, I admit. I ain't no Mark Twain.