At 11 a.m. on New Year's Day, you call somebody at your peril. If he's still in the middle of his beauty sleep, a cub can be a bear and a goldfish can be a barracuda. So it was a relief to hear a cheery, chipper (and above all, civilized) voice telling me that I'd just gotten his 1985 off to a great start.
But turnabout was fair play, for Miles Klein had done the same to mine. I began Jan. 1 by sifting through the entries to my December neologism contest. One of Miles's nine submissions stood out like a morning-after hangover.
The challenge was:
You pay the tab at a restaurant with a credit card. But you forget (as usual) to yank out your copy of the three-part credit voucher. So the waiter does it for you. But in addition to handing you the slip, he hands you the always-limp, always-useless piece of carbon paper that used to live directly between "Establishment Copy" and "Customer Copy." That piece of carbon paper is called . . . .
Miles' answer was:
Piece de remittance.
Which rang my bell on several scores. First, it's a cute pun. Second, it forced me to trot out my rapidly-rusting French -- which is always good for a few howls. And if you need a third, it proves that not everybody who lives in New Jersey has a vocabulary that consists of duh, yeah and uh-huh.
Miles Klein is rock-solid Jersey: an optometrist who lives in East Brunswick, about 30 miles south of New York City. But his avocation is words, and he's a many-time champion at word contests.
"I've loved words all my life," he told me. "I majored in English in college. And you know New York Magazine? I enter their word contests all the time. I think my free subscription runs through 1988 with all the contests I've won. In fact, when you called, I was just working the crossword puzzle in the new issue of Games magazine."
Folks, anybody who is working crosswords on New Year's morning instead of sleeping off whatever there is to sleep off takes words very seriously, indeed. Hats off to a worthy winner.
But plaudits -- and not his prize of a free lunch -- is all I can offer Miles at the moment. I told him I'd love to come to Manhattan and blow a ton of green stuff at some place where the waiter's name is Francois and the strawberries just arrived from the Riviera by chartered jet. But the stick-in-the-muds who watch the budget around here would never understand.
Luckily, however, Miles has a son who's a freshman at the University of Maryland, and he visits this area regularly. So we made a date for the next time Miles is Down South. In the meantime, I will diet religiously (pause for laughter from anyone who knows me) in feverish anticipation.
I'll also console myself with some of this month's near-misses. They didn't miss by much.
Forghetti Carbonerror: Jan Sperling of Silver Spring.
Tricarbonated Leverage: Sue Grabowski of Arlington.
Flat Flat Flimsy With a Floy Floy (if you don't get it, ask anybody who was around for Pearl Harbor, suggests the author, Flora Van Orden of Triangle, Va.).
Smearer-image: Margaret Male of Laurel.
Carbonated Wadder: Annette Royster and Anne Marie Macker of Germantown.
A Mess in Three-Part Carbony: Thomas F. Reid of Herndon.
Ink-cling: Dick Mason of Sterling.
A Dirty Ripoff: Al Toner of Arlington.
Carbomination: Vincent Vallieres of Arlington.
Carde Blanch: Don Comis of Arlington.
Carbonated Severage: Peter A. Gifford of Northwest.
Return Receipt Detested: Susan Lee of Rockville.
Carbage: Arlene Hoebel of Reston.
Reinkarnation: Lisa Szymanski of Fairfax.
And After Dinner Ink: Marina Bragg of Northwest.
By the way, the challenge provides a consumer tip that all wielders of credit cards ought to know.
"The waiter is doing you a favor," writes Willow Davis of Arlington. "Thieves rummage through the trash in back of restaurants for such carbons, and use the numbers to run up charges you don't find out about for another month. Didn't you know that? Wise up, kid."
Anyone who calls me "kid" owns my heart forever. Large smooches for that, Willow -- and thanks, too, for a solid piece of advice.
On to the January challenge, an especially modern one that was suggested by John D. Stackpole of District Heights.
You work on a computer that's attached to a printer. The printer uses continuous-feed paper. The paper has holes along both sides, and it's perforated so that you can tear off the procession of holes, into long, thin strips. Those strips of hole-after-hole-after-hole are called . . . .
Any wise guy who sends in strips of hole-hole-hole with his entry will be sentenced to three months of watching Wheel of Fortune on TV.
For the rest of you, the conditions are the usuals. The winner gets a free lunch, at a restaurant of his choice. Levey will tag along -- and will graciously refrain from telling you how computers are out to get him. Entries by Feb. 1, please, to the address that appears at the end of this column.