It is axiomatic in this business that whenever one writes about an especially emotional issue, he is bound to emerge not as a hero of those whose opinion he seems to favor, but as an enemy of anyone who has an opinion.
This is not true in matters of war, politics, capital punishment, poverty, child abuse or disease, since no one in Southern California really pays much attention to subjects that cannot be discussed at cocktail parties.
But write about something as sensitive and elemental as body fat and it's Katie bar the door.
I'm talking about a column a few weeks ago in which I discussed the Fat Liberation Front, which is to say an organization of heavyset people who are tired of being ostracized because they are fat.
Not content to let it go at that, I then went on to examine the unhealthy obsession of those who have dedicated their otherwise empty lives to fitness, a form of dementia that seems to be centered in the San Fernando Valley .
I have come away from the counterattack feeling a little like Bettino Craxi on the Abul Abbas issue, unloved by either side. It is not Rambo Reagan or the Italian opposition who are after me, however, but the fats and the thins.
Do not misunderstand. I am not in this business to be a hero. Firemen are heroes and linebackers are heroes, but essay columnists are simply a pain in the behind because no one quite knows why they are there in the first place, including the essayist.
Nor do I expect to be loved. It would offend me to be hugged on the street by anyone weighing 300 pounds and I sure as hell don't want to be the darling of those boney people in tennis skirts who shop at Gelson's.
But what amazes me is that people care so much about their weight.
The mail and telephone calls relative to the fat column were second in volume only to those I received when I quoted a friend of mine, Allen Jaeger, on suggesting that feminists probably came from another planet, so foreign are their concepts of logic and reason to the standards intended by our creator, Mr. God.
One caller on the fat column, no doubt herself a fat lady, said I was probably a Communist. When I asked why she felt I was dirty Red (Karl Marx, to the best of my knowledge, did not take up the weight issue in "Das Kapital"), she replied, "Because you're so damned dumb!" and hung up.
I don't know that Communists are dumb exactly, but I want to honor the lady's earlier point of view, which was that I had no right to intrude on so intimate an area of discussion as one's body.
"That," she said somewhat snappishly, "should be a subject for the bedroom!"
Well, I've got other things I want to talk about in the bedroom, among which the subject of weight control is hardly ever included, although I read in Life magazine once that the average sex act uses up 150 calories.
Of course, that was a long time ago and what with new methods and positions introduced over the years, God knows how many calories are burned during a modern encounter. Perhaps thousands.
Other callers and writers alternately suggested I was either fat and emotionally disturbed or skinny and mean-spirited.
A lawyer dictated a rambling page and a half single-spaced letter on the side of, all together now, Good Health.
I am amazed that he bothered, but on the other hand perhaps I shouldn't be. There are so many lawyers in Los Angeles that business is probably pretty bad right now, because anyone with any money has already been sued. Lawyers may have to learn to do something else.
I almost didn't read all of the letter, the opening prose was so murky. It began:
"Your article displayed as much deficiency in your ability to take liberties with the truth as Henry seemed to take liberties with your 'friendship.' "
I have never been a whiz at grammar, but I recognize a clumsy sentence when I see one. What the man appears to be trying to say is that I am deficient in my ability to take liberties with the truth.
To the contrary, I am very good at taking liberties with the truth. That's why they gave me a column. I am also good at quoting sources out of context, which the lawyer asked me specifically not to do, and which, of course, I now display my lack of deficiency at, as the barrister might have written.
No one said anyone who practiced law necessarily had to be able to read and write.
But possibly my most enlightening letter was from a self-healer who, concerning her expertise, wrote:
"People get what they need: If you're overweight, you'll lose. If your neck hurts, it will stop (usually within 48 hours)." Then she added, and this is important, "Naturally, if you don't have a pain in the neck, it can't go away."
Finally, back to the lawyer who asked that I not quote him out of context: "That seems to be a not uncommon shortcoming amongst journalists who misuse their built-in advantage of being able to get the last word, in print."