Columnists are forever being asked where they get ideas. The only honest answer is, "Anywhere we can."
We might mine the mail. We might become inspired by a headline. We might overhear a conversation on the bus. We are never a choosy breed.
But we are often a desperate breed -- and we recognize that desperation in each other. Like marines helping marines, we will never let a colleague suffer as a deadline approaches, and emptyheadedness sets in. So it was that I hurried to the side of a fellow columnist the other day when I noticed him doing the dance we call "the columnist's tango."
He was pacing in circles up by the bulletin board, rubbing his head with his hands, then hitching up his pants, then tugging at his cuffs. He looked a little like a third base coach who had wandered into the newsroom by mistake. Having danced the columnist's tango many times myself, I recognized the signs. So I marched up and said:
"You need one for Monday, huh?"
We talked South Africa and tax reform for a few minutes, until he pronounced himself temporarily (it's always temporarily) free of idealessness. Later that day, he returned the favor with a note. It read:
"Bob: I was driving along 16th Street the other day when, without being aware of it, I cut another driver off. My maneuver must have seemed to her quite deliberate, though the fact is I just didn't see her.
"Problem: How do you say 'I'm Sorry?'
"There is no 'I'm Sorry' gesture. There are waves, or tips of imaginary hats, to say 'Thanks.' There are gestures to ask, 'May I?' and gestures to say 'Please Go Ahead.' But no way I could think of to signal a simple, unambiguous 'I'm Sorry.'
"The unambiguous part is important, because if you have done something to another motorist that demands an I'm Sorry, you really don't want to give the impression of adding insult (or threat) to injury. I thought perhaps your inventive mind might come up with something that could catch on."
Isn't it wonderful the way we flatter each other? But that aside, My Fellow Columnist had a point. I put my allegedly inventive mind to work and came up with . . . .
The Head Slap.
You do it to yourself with your open palm. Just raise the palm above your head and bring it down sharply, once. A little like a football referee charging a time-out to himself.
Advantages: Since you use only one hand, you don't have to let go of the steering wheel to apply a head slap. Since you're hitting the hardest part of your corpus, you won't cause yourself any pain, as you might if you slapped your cheek. And since the blow is unmistakably applied by you, to you, the gesture will never be misunderstood.
Disadvantages: None I can think of, except that the idea may die aborning, for lack of use. The only thing more rare than lawabiding drivers these days is drivers willing to admit that they're wrong, in any fashion.
Still, if you ever find yourself in the mood to apologize, open up the old palm and let fly. It should square things quite neatly.
Meanwhile, if anybody has a column idea for next Monday . . . .
Thank you, one and all, for some lovely Seventh Dwarf entries.
These were inspired by a recent column in which I told of a Southeast family that easily recalled the names of six of the seven famous dwarfs, but couldn't come up with Bashful. As they writhed in agony, they thought up some new ones -- like Sushi, Raunchy, Yuppie, and other topical treats.
Suitably impressed, I invited readers to think up Seventh Dwarfs for certain people or situations. Here are a few of the submissions:
The occupant of the White House, 1969-74: Tricky (Susan Feiner and Bruce Roberts of Williamsburg).
A junk food addict: Twinkie (the same pair).
One who steals your parking space: Grabby (Dawn Watkins of Silver Spring).
Computer specialist: Byter (Suzanne of Falls Church).
Metrobus: Bumpy (Diana Newman of Northwest).
A dermatologist: Skinny (Sheldon L. Freud of Alexandria).
The Virginia State Police: Hov-ie ("Anonymous" of Arlington).
One who runs a tire repair shop: Flattery ("Anonymous" who uses graph paper).
And a D.C. conventioneer: Boozy (Samuel McAdams of Arlington).
Alex Thien in The Milwaukee Sentinel:
You can always tell a home that has a 5-year-old in it. You have to wash the soap before using it yourself.