Some obnoxious kids compulsively tap their pencils (future drummers), and some obnoxious kids compulsively read (future bloggers). For me, learning to read was akin to acquiring a super power and my prowling little eyes devoured every word in their path. No billboard, TV Guide, or back of a cereal box was safe. The first thing I remember learning to read was The Cat in the Hat and the second thing was Dear Abby. I discovered Dear Abby early in my elementary school career because the first part of the Greenville News my mom always opened in the morning was the crossword and comics page, and she left it on the kitchen table for my consumption along with my honeybun. Abby's column floated imperially over the horoscopes and word jumble- she owned page 6D of the Lifestyle section. And I read her EVERY MORNING.
Dear Abby had a profoundly formative influence on my budding literacy and social awareness. I vicariously learned the ways of the world through the familial, marital, professional, and etiquette-related dilemmas of others. I also learned about Alcoholics Anonymous, 10 Signs of Domestic Abuse, and all sorts of holidays I never knew existed. On any random day Abby would close her column with a direct address to a specific population that went like this:
"Confidential to my Jewish readers: Happy Purim!"
"Confidential to my AARP readers: Happy Armistice Day!"
"Confidential to my Christian readers: Happy Easter! Remember, it is unwise to give small animals (bunnies, chicks, etc.) to your children as presents. Pets require an investment of time, attention, and money, and unless you can fully care for this new member of your family, it's advisable to just visit your local zoo."
In retrospect I should have clipped that last directive upon each reprinting, highlighted it, and glitter-glued it to my parents' bathroom mirror because this important message obviously escaped them. This oversight resulted in our possession of an immortal rabbit called Pepper. Any takers?
I had a friend in third or fourth grade and her house had a laundry chute! At my behest, we used the chute to rig up our own version of Dear Abby. We tied some sheets together and tied a bucket to one end. From my station in her bedroom, I would lower the bucket through the laundry chute to my friend, stationed in the basement. From there I instructed her to write me, Dear Abby, a letter, which I would answer and return via laundry chute express mail. She was ok at playing Dear Abby, but had trouble coming up with any interesting problems beyond "Dear Abby, what color nail polish should I choose? Pink or red?*"
One early school morning I sat down with my toaster strudel and reached for the paper only to find one of the Dear Abby letters neatly clipped out of the page. My mom had cut out half the column before I had a chance to read it!!! Her reasoning? "It was totally inappropriate. I can't believe Abby would print something like that." I was enraged at my mother's censorship. Almost as enraged as I felt (and continue to feel) every time Abby wasted valuable column inches by printing a stupid-ass letter saying something smug and stupid in response to some of her advice. Such as:
When Birthday On A Budget In Boise wrote you in search of thrifty ideas for her 5-year-old's birthday party, you forgot to mention Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey! Duh, Abby! Kids and parents these days just forget all about the good old-fashioned games that used to make America great. Do you think teenagers would be dying their hair blue and getting pregnant out of wedlock if they'd had some good old common-sense fun at their birthday parties? Well I'm here to tell you they wouldn't, mark my words.
-Remembers the "Small" Things In Wapakoneta"
All that's missing from this example is a Paul Harvey quote. Even at seven years old, these types of letters infuriated me because of their blatant irrelevance, clueless self-righteousness, and worst of all, the obligatory failed pun in the signature. I LOVE puns and loathe to see them done badly. Moreover, letters like this one, with no problem of any consequence, defile the very intent of an advice column while cheating a truly needy letter-writer out of his or her rightful space in the column. If I'd wanted to read something boring and short-sighted over breakfast, I would have turned to the Greenville News editorials page.
And so, Dear Readers, to honor my first favorite writer and to make reparations for her occasionally misguided printings, I would like to officially open up Hungry Lion to all you advice-seeking folks out there. This means you. Wondering what to do about an office romance? Want to quit smoking or manage your anger or come out to your parents? Or maybe get rid of your neighbor's yappy dog once and for all? Hit me up! Be warned, my guiding principal for future advice-giving will probably be "If this were a movie, what should happen next? What would provide the most interesting conflict for me, the viewer?"
But really, what do you have to lose? Here's some advice: For a truly multi-faceted approach to a situation, write to me AND Dear Abby. You'll be the judge of whose advice is superior, but both points of view will come from an opinionated individual with your best interests at heart. And you can take comfort knowing at least one of them has great hair.
*Even in the imaginary world, she was limited by her parents' "pink or red nail polish ONLY, until you're 16!" rule.