Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Advice columnists can be entertaining

Advice columns in the newspaper are more than valuable sources of information that teach us to improve our condition, cement relationships and achieve success in love, life and the pursuit of happiness.

They also provide a measure of entertainment not available in other venues, such as movies, television programs and sporting events.

The latter would include the Browns beating the stuffing out of previously winless teams.

Oh well, if not last Sunday, perhaps next. But I digress.

Pre-eminent among advice columns for generations were the fabled twin sisters in real life, Dear Abby and Ann Landers.

They ruled the roost among sob sisters longer than Lassie ruled the silver screen. Or than Lawrence Welk dominated the airwaves.

Abby spoke in Cleveland a millennium or so ago, and since her syndicated column was one of the staples of our star-studded lineup, we wanted very much to do an interview with her.

But she had no time for that. She had to leave immediately after her speech for the airport to catch a plane.

Come to think of it, why else would anyone be in a sweat to get to the airport?

I managed to get her on the phone, and she was very sweet. But she was also firm. She had no time to spare.

But we came up with a plan. She was taking a limo to the airport. I asked: Would it be OK if our society editor, Louise Bartko, and I rode along with her to the airport, so she could talk to Louise along the way?

Abby said sure, we agreed, and it worked into a fine story, which I never saved for posterity because, after all, I can only save so much stuff over the course of 64 years.

Another columnist who responded to questions of every ilk and persuasion was Dr. George W. Crane, whose son, Phillip, became a noted congressman from, I think, Illinois.

Dr. Crane got a query from a reader one day who asked about watering her African violets while on vacation.

The good doctor replied that they must be watered but very sparingly. It must not be overdone, he warned, because he once put too much water on his violets and it killed them.

The column required a fresh headline every day, one that accurately related to the subject matter. So I put a head on it that I thought was terribly clever. Perhaps you will agree, perhaps not. It said:

“Doctor caught with his plants drowned.”

Our current columnist on medical matters, Dr. Roach, is worth your attention every day, because you never know what he might come up with.

Just the other day (Oct. 20) he adjudicated a father-son dispute about the efficacy of sitting on a baseball to cure, shall we say, a pain in the posterior. His answer was memorable.

But his column Oct. 15 was my all-time favorite. A reader said:

“I am a reasonably healthy 66-year-old male. I walk five miles a day. I have no knee problems. My doctor says I am walking too much and will wear out my knees. Do you agree?”

“No, I don’t agree at all,” Dr. Roach responded. He proceeded to elaborate in a torrent of well-chosen words, including a lecture on osteoarthritis, which he didn’t seem to think was a factor here.

He concluded, “Exercise is so good for your body, mind and spirit that this persistent myth needs to be corrected.”

I am sure the doctor is right, but he could have had a lot more fun with his answer had he given it a little more thought.

He might have said: “Tell me, M.D. (he was the questioner), if you have been faithfully walking five miles a day, how far from home are you right now?”

He also might have interviewed several people who deliver mail on foot (they used to be called “mailmen” but are probably known as “mailpersons” now because, you know, mailman is not politically correct in that it is a sexist term) to find out how their knees are doing.

Other sexist terms I worry about are manhole covers and the cry, “Man the lifeboats – the ship is sinking.”

Well, the language is also sinking. But that is another story.

Meanwhile, I will have to ask my mailman, Dave, how many miles a day he walks and how his knees are holding up.

Problem is, he moves right along and has little time for small talk because he has a lot of miles to cover every day.

It’s probably a very nice walk on a crisp autumn day. But in a foot of snow, not so nice.

M.D., the guy who wrote to Dr. Roach, didn’t say anything about walking five miles a day in a foot of snow.


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