When you've been writing a column for as long as I have -- six billion years this Tuesday -- you get used to receiving a certain type of letter. It's known, in journalism, as the "I Dare You To Print This!" (IDYTPT for short) letter, because the letter-writer challenges you, the columnist, to print the letter, implying you lack the courage.
Generally you don't print it, for two reasons. One is, you get a lot of these letters (at least I do) and if you printed them all, your column would consist entirely of letters that people dared you to print. Eventually the newspaper, realizing that you were no longer necessary, would fire you, and you'd have to get a real job, which is a problem because most columnists don't know how to actually do anything except have opinions. Like, if you had a toilet leak, and you called a columnist, instead of fixing the leak, he'd give you his strongly worded opinion, based on information hastily obtained from Google, about whether the leak was a good thing or a bad thing. At least 70 percent of the time he would be wrong.
The other reason why columnists don't print IDYTPT letters is that often the author of the letter is misinformed, by which I mean insane. Your typical IDYTPT letter-writer sounds like this:
"If you in the so-called 'news media' did a little RESEARCH, you would know that so-called 'GLOBAL WARMING' is in fact caused by TINY NUCLEAR-POWERED ROBOT SNAILS transported by CIA-TRAINED PARAKEETS responding to HIGH-FREQUENCY RADIO COMMANDS transmitted by an ALIEN TAPEWORM operating from the large intestine of REGIS PHILBIN. All of this is CLEARLY PREDICTED in both the BIBLE and the 1952 SEARS WALLPAPER CATALOG, and confirmed to me personally by a PORTUGESE-SPEAKING MOTH FROM THE FUTURE. Mr. Barry, I DARE YOU TO PRINT THIS!"
But every now and then an IDYTPT letter deserves to be printed. I have one here taking strong issue with a column I wrote about the national poker craze, in which I said that watching people play poker on TV is boring, because all that happens is a bunch of guys who look like severe hemorrhoid sufferers sit around peeking at cards.
This did not sit well with Sharon Warden -- also known, according to her letter, as "Royal Flush Mama." She dares me to print the fact that I am a fool, as well as being both dumb and stupid. Her letter states that, contrary to what I said in my column, poker players do NOT use the terms "sneak a gander" and "kiss the eel." She also questions my masculinity, noting that, quote: "Poker is truly a man's man game and a few women." As for the poker players on TV, she writes: "Did you even know that just about all of them are millionaires or very famous."
"Also," she notes, "none of us have hemorrhoids."
She doesn't say how she knows this, and I don't want to know. But speaking of flushes: I got a far more positive response to another column I wrote listing a series of etiquette rules that everybody should know. The most popular rule, by far, was one suggested by my Research Department, Judi Smith, concerning women's-restroom courtesy. Judi feels very strongly about women who, not wishing to come into direct buttular contact with a public toilet, hover above it, thereby turning the seat into a Weewee Waterpark. These women, Judi feels, should either (a) clean up after themselves; or (b) suffer the death penalty.
I thought that was perhaps a tad harsh, but to judge from my mail, many women agree with Judi. Apparently hover-peeing is a major problem in women's restrooms. I had no idea. I mean, I know MEN are disgusting, especially at football games, where by the third quarter the men's room is the Land of the Untamed Firehoses, with guys teetering back and forth while aiming pretty much at random, which is why no sane male would ever wash his hands in, or even look directly at, a stadium sink.
I thought women were better than that, but according to my readers, many women are not; apparently this is an area where both genders could do a lot better. I hope we do, because restroom germs not only cause disease, but also have learned to band together and form large, hostile organisms that walk among us, undetected, disguised as producers of "reality" television. I know this for a fact! It was told to me, in Portugese, by Vreemak, Moth of the Future. Humanity MUST BE WARNED! This is why I dare the editor to PRINT THIS COLUMN.
-- Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.