"Breeze," whereabouts unknown, writes:
I kiss you.
That's all. Just "I kiss you." And then the signature, "Breeze."
Why, thank you, Breeze, but there's a problem here. My mother told me never to accept kisses from strangers, if not in those words exactly.
The message came inside a Christmas card graced with the image of an old woman holding a wrapped gift and saying: "It's fun to surprise people who weren't expecting anything!" Inside were those three little words from Breeze, so simple and surprising and mysterious. (A woman from my past? Not that I can recall. A woman from my future?)
Whatever. I welcome the positive reinforcement, in part because not all the mail has been cordial lately. On the other hand, I can't say that I've been a model of etiquette myself. And that brings me to my New Year's resolution: In 1995, I'll try twice--no, three times--as hard to personally respond to readers who take the time to write. (Exceptions, of course, will be made for publicists and others who appear to have a sinister agenda. But don't take it personally.)
This is, if I do say so myself, a fairly ambitious goal for someone who still hasn't gotten around to sending out season's greetings. This past year, I probably called, wrote or e-mailed back to about 30% of the folks who wrote to me. A goal of 90% seems reasonable.
Why not 100%? One reason is that the landfill that serves as my files has a way of making things disappear. Past resolutions to become more organized and neat were utter failures, perhaps because I seldom feel guilty about my own mess. Pangs of conscience should help me fill the resolution for '95. I've learned the hard way that some readers are indeed offended by the failure to reply.
The prolific Ron Yorke of Reseda writes:
Actually, he wrote this months ago, chastising me for my failure to respond.
Ron Yorke is a friendly nemesis and a regular on the Letters to the Editor pages in these parts, and he's written me a few times, mostly about gun control. (He's against it.)
Ron Yorke once enclosed a card requesting me to check one of two boxes. If I might paraphrase, my choices were something like: "Yes, Ron, I've seen the light and will promote our sacred right to own automatic rifles that might fall into the wrong hands and wipe out scores of schoolchildren and police officers," or "No, Ron, I think you're utterly clueless." (I'd give the direct quote if I could find the letter in this mess.)
What I would have said, Ron, is that it's remarkable how pro-gun activists like to reduce complex social issues into yes-no, either-or, us-them propositions.
And I'd have urged him to include his phone number the next time he writes, just because it makes responding that much easier. When I tried to track down Ron Yorke some months back, the operator gave me the number for a different Ron Yorke (or York) who lives on the same street.
But if you don't include a phone number, I'll at least try to send a postcard back. In fact, I'll even try to write such readers as . . .
K.M. of Mojave, who writes in a Letter to the Editor:
Apparently it is intended that we (the majority of citizens) should be influenced by such rubbish as "Plumbing the Depths of an Ethical Mess," 10/15/94, by one of your lackeys, Scott Harris. From the looks of his photo, he may have missed (by a couple of generations) the opportunity to personally observe any persistent behavior pattern that could properly be termed "ethical" . . .
And so on, for two pages, ending with the line: you, and your Mr. Harris, could go to hell.
An editor who said this letter was "too long and otherwise not very suitable for publication" graciously passed it on to me. Initials are being used here because when I tried to locate K.M. and let him know I intended to quote his letter, operators found no such listing in Mojave. Maybe that isn't such a bad thing.
Now, because K.M. addressed his letter to the editor, and not to me, it would OK for me to ignore it. Indeed, ignoring it might be proper, so I hope K.M. doesn't mind my quoting it here. This way, at least, there is some space for his perspectives.
Most of the critical mail, I'm happy to say, sticks to issues and arguments and avoids the invective. Nonetheless, I'll try to respond to the un-fan mail as well, and I'll try to avoid saying anything about anybody's mother or anything else that might get me fired.
I wonder . . . would it be OK to write "I kiss you"? Or would that be sexual harassment?
Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, Calif. 91311. Please include a phone number. Address TimesLink or Prodigy e-mail to YQTU59A ( via the Internet: YQTU59A@prodigy.com). He really will try to write back. Honest.