I usually devote my final column of the year to trotting out my hate mail. It’s not as if 2011 was a lean year for anti-Beam mail - here’s looking at you, Harvard happiness maven Daniel Gilbert! - but this time I thought I would publish all kinds of mail, because some letters elaborate on the published columns.
Last February, for instance, during some monster snowstorms, I wrote a column poking fun at the concept of “essential’’ and “non-essential’’ workers. I opined “that the man or woman responsible for issuing permits to nonprofit organizations ‘to conduct raffles, bazaars, and Las Vegas nights’ might be allowed to take the day off.’’
But no. Dan Ferullo, the man at the attorney general’s office who does regulate raffles and Vegas nights, did make it into work during the worst snowstorm. He tackled “Route 128, then Route 93, then the Orange Line from Wellington, then the Blue Line from State to Bowdoin, in order to make it to my job on the 11th floor of 100 Cambridge Street,’’ he wrote me.
“I made it in by noon,’’ Ferullo reported, “only to be told that, due to the awful weather conditions that day, the office would be closing at 1. So, despite not being essential, I want you to know that some of us state workers did, in fact, make it to work Wednesday.’’
My only possible response: Thank you!
A couple of months ago, I mentioned the scrumptious baked sole dish, Seafood Valerie, as the rare example of something that could not be Googled. Now it can, and more. Bob Apteker, the son of the chef who created S.V. (named after the actress Valerie Harper), has created SeafoodValerie.com, a website where you can watch a brief video of his father and download the Valerie recipe for $3. Worth every penny.
The honorific title “Ms.’’ celebrated its 100th anniversary last month, and I summarized its phoenix-like re-apparitions in a column. I acknowledged activist Sheila Michael’s claim to inventing its modern usage in 1961, but Wayland’s Barbara Ebert informed me that she was addressing envelopes with “Ms.’’ back in 1952.
“When General Eisenhower was running for president, I worked for his campaign,’’ Ebert told me. “Fliers were sent out in hand-addressed envelopes to those on voting lists. We were instructed, when unsure whether a woman was married or not, to address her as Ms. I have no idea whose idea it was, but we beat Ms. Michaels by almost 10 years and [Gloria Steinem, founder of “Ms.’’ magazine] by almost 20.’’
The Ms. column engaged the word nerds, who probably prefer to be called “language mavens.’’ Roland Perez e-mailed me from Mexico to blast me for criticizing Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary turned newspaper columnist. “How easy it is to defame the character of people whose ideas are misunderstood by our readers!’’ Perez fulminated. “I would just call it a calumny. That is what you have written in your article entitled ‘Fidel Castro, columnist.’ And that is why, unlike him, you are not a columnist, but just a CALUMNIST.’’
Joel Relihan, a classics professor at Wheaton College, called me out for using the invented adjective “demi-chiasmatic’’ in a recent column, about Paul Krugman’ s observation that Newt Gingrich is “a stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.’’ The adjective should be “chiastic,’’ Relihan wrote, “and it would be better to have the Greek prefix hemi- with a Greek word. As it stands, it looks like a non-Greek-student’s idea of what a Greek adjective should look like.’’
Now get ready to duck; here comes the hate mail. My snarky valedictory to Oprah Winfrey and “her vulgar, consumerist Elmer Gantry act’’ triggered a predictable avalanche of dissenting comments.
An irate Karen Haley of Boston used one of the proverbial seven words you can’t say on television to berate me: “Your article on Oprah was horrible. It gave me some insight into how cold-hearted you must be. She is a miracle. You are an [deleted].’’
Reader Brenda Jalbert piled on. “You sound like a mean, mean bitter man,’’ she wrote. “It is only free speech that allows you to be so cruel!!!!! Your [sic] just jealous you didn’t get a car.’’
Of course I have left space for esteemed Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, one of several happiness experts gleefully skewered in a column headlined “Happiness kills.’’
“The book you make fun of [“Stumbling on Happiness’] isn’t a self-help book,’’ Gilbert wrote. “It won the Royal Society’s prize for best science book of the year. The app you make fun of [Track Your Happiness] is a non-profit research tool and the data we gathered using it were published this year in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal, Science. In short, could you be a bigger moron?’’
The only possible answer to your question, Professor Gilbert is: Probably yes.
Speaking of happiness, holiday wishes to all, and hopes for a enjoyable and productive 2012.