Knee pain.

I’m having a pretty serious logistical problem with my bedroom.

This house is heavily gabled up here on the second floor. It’s one huge room (with some attic areas) that’s shaped like a plus sign. Each “wing” of the plus sign has two roof corners meeting above it. The walls of this twelve-sided room range from being three feet to five feet high, and they’re taller in the tops of the gables down the centers of each wing.

Here’s the problem. Six months ago, I changed the lower stairs so that Big Woof could get up here with me. The stairs were arranged such that they jutted at sharp isosceles triangles at the lower four steps. Naturally, Big Woof, a ninety-pound dog, was fearful of it. Now, there’s a landing for her, and then a ninety-degree turn to the right with three new steps that extend into the kitchen.

Anyway, whenever I come up or go down those three lower steps, I have to duck under the doorjamb. Do you know what happens to your knee when you’re going forward, up, and ducking all at once? You damned well get runner’s knee, even though you don’t run.

My knee is all kinds of messed up, and I know this is what’s causing and aggravating it. Yes, it’s great that I’m going to the gym and trying to strengthen the surrounding muscles, which is a good treatment for runner’s knee. But I’ve finally realized that I need to do more.

Here are my broad options:

  1. Undo the carpentry that I did to allow Big Woof up here. But I don’t think that would be a nice way to treat Big Woof.
  2. Radically alter the stairwell. I ran that idea by my dad, the homeowner, and he blew a gasket.
  3. Move out of this room. My dad offered to give me his stamp room on the first floor, and I’d also have some room in the basement. He feels it would be sad for this room to go to waste, but I can’t allow my knee to keep deteriorating.
  4. And this was my dad’s idea: walk up and down the stairs very, very carefully and conscientiously every single time. Newsflash: I’ve been doing that for the past few weeks, and it’s not helping. At all. I’ve started becoming afraid of my stairs. Not stairs in general, mind you, just my stairs.

I also toyed with putting up some handles I could grab onto that would ideally transfer weight off my knee while coming and going. But it doesn’t seem like it would help all that much.

So I’d need downstairs space for: my bedroom area, my computer area, and… that might be all. I have a lot of nice things up here that I’ve amassed: furniture from my late grandparents, furniture I’ve made, collectibles, etc. There wouldn’t be room for most of it downstairs. On the other hand, it would all be safe up here.

So there’s the tiny stamp room on the first floor, which would be my only first-floor space. In the basement, there’s a similarly tiny room, maybe 11′ x 12′, that I could also use. Problem: if I were to use the basement room for either my computer time and/or my sleepy time, Big Woof would want to go down there with me. And I love having her with me. But I also do woodworking down there, and that’s why I’m glad that, so far, she doesn’t know how to get down to the basement. If I teach her how to go down there, it wouldn’t be reversible. On the other hand, I could just close the basement door.

I’m bummed out about this. I’ve got this room decorated like a rainbow exploded. But honestly, it is a tad gloomy and claustrophobic up here. There’s no natural light, and there are no windows overlooking the back.

I guess I could sleep in the piano room (we used to keep my piano in the basement room) and do computer stuff on the first floor. I used to live down in the piano room, but I’ll tell you–it’s scary down there. The door is right next to the furnace. I tried to sleep down there once a while back, and I actually got so scared that I came back upstairs. Hmm… I could do both sleeping and computer using in the first-floor room, I suppose.

 

Thank you, Ask Amy!

TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE (FROM THE PAST)

Dear Amy: My daughter is 32 years old. She and my son-in-law tied the knot recently after six years together.

He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer last year. They lived 700 miles away from us, but recently moved back home. He is doing well with his treatments and is progressing better than expected.

I am sure my daughter being present and supportive is a huge part of his medical success. She didn’t work before he was diagnosed — and still doesn’t.

He has been able to continue to work throughout, so they are solid financially. People often ask me what she “does.” Does she work outside the home? No. She works in her home; she’s a housewife. She takes care of the house, her husband, their animals, etc.

I find myself being dumbfounded by the responses I get when I tell people that.

Where is it written that a woman has to work outside the home to be valuable?

I am becoming defensive. How can I answer this question differently in order to get a different reaction? It really irritates me. What’s wrong with being a housewife or a stay-at-home mom?

I would have loved to be able to do what she’s doing.

— Stumped in Alabama

Dear Stumped: Many moons ago, (pre-child), I interrupted my career for a period where I spent my time taking care of myself, husband, hearth and home.

When asked what I did for a living, I would respond that I was a “housewife,” which seemed to annoy people, who tended to respond with a version of: “Oh, I’m sure you’re not just a housewife.”

I think the term “housewife” is loaded for some people because it describes someone who is defining herself through an inanimate object (house) and another person (wife). But I liked the term, partly because I liked the life. When my “housewife” descriptor bugged people, I would correct it and say, “Sorry, I mean ‘domestic engineer.'”

It is NOT written anywhere that a person must define their value only outside the home. I was raised by a hardworking and professionally successful single mother, who always said her favorite and most rewarding job was during those years when she was exclusively tending to home and family.

You cannot change the way people react to the way you describe your daughter’s life.

The point is that no one who likes her honest, productive and fulfilling life should feel the need to apologize for it.

Nor should you. (c) Ask Amy

Whoops. I meant to comment on this yesterday, but I put it in my (now-edited) blog post without my comments.

I greatly appreciate Ask Amy’s comments, and I’m sure a lot of us need to hear it. I have no idea why there’s this pull to have a job and provide for yourself (financially), as if not doing so will make you a bad, inferior person. I think that working should be about one thing and one thing only: earning a paycheck. It shouldn’t be about needing the approval of earning a paycheck; it should just be about getting the paycheck so you can pay for things. A job can also be about personal satisfaction for a job well done, but my point is that we shouldn’t need a job in order to feel worthwhile.

I struggled with that for years, and the thing is that I don’t wish that struggle upon anyone. And yet I know people who are still going through it, and I want to protect them.

After college, I was still working on campus. I had a very nice part-time job in the mailroom. The job was an extension of the work-study I’d done in the print shop. It was just a few hours each afternoon. The two women who ran the adjoining print shop spruced up my resume and got me a full-time job downtown doing office work.

That job lasted one day. The white walls of the office felt foreign to me. I felt like I was lost in a strange land with no life jacket.

After I quit the job, I went back to the print shop. Gwen and Jennifer went psycho crazy. “You do not quit a job after one day. What’s wrong with you?” And they refused to let me have my old job back. I don’t hold them in very high regard, even years later. They made me feel really bad about myself, and in retrospect, they had no right to interfere in my life as much as they did. I seriously doubt that they had good intentions.

I went crazy from the self-imposed pressure, worrying what I’d do with my life and fearing that work would never work out for me. I’d always sensed it, but now it was staring me in the face; and as a recent college graduate, I was running out of options.

I’ll give myself credit for this, though: I could’ve gone on to graduate school, but I knew it would just be a cop-out, a way to hide from life for longer. So I didn’t go down that road. I just decided to face it head-on.

Unfortunately, within a week, I became ravingly suicidal. I tried cutting my wrists, I swallowed pills, I sat in a car with the engine running, and I don’t remember what else. I ultimately wound up in the mental hospital.

But sadly, even when I was sprung about a week later, I still expected myself to get a job. Like, couldn’t anyone in my life suggest any other options for me? Apparently not. Fortunately, the following spring, I got the job at the reading center.

That worked out for about three years. It was a part-time job, teaching two to seven hours a day. And the ridiculous thing, the obscene thing, is that I felt inadequate for only working part-time! I thought I should be doing more with my life than teaching part-time hours. This, even though the seven-hours-a-day weeks (of which there were many) were almost full-time.

I quit when it became clear I wouldn’t be given more hours. But then I was doing nothing at all professionally. I moved to Georgia and worked at a residential treatment facility for a year or so. Then I went super-crazy and moved back home.

So when I was back home, muttering about Evil Spirits and acting completely unhinged, my dad kept telling me that I needed to find a new job. Even my explaining to him that the Evil Spirits would never allow me to work didn’t get him off my case.

So over the next several years, I tried job after job, and each one unhinged me farther. I finally reached the brink (literally) where I realized that I needed to quit working for all time. I talked myself off said brink, spent three days mixing sleeping pills and alcohol, did nothing but watch lame daytime TV, came out on the other side of it, and finally vowed to never work again. I applied for federal disability and was granted it within three months.

I can’t even find the words to describe how much better my life is, now that I can spend all my time following creative pursuits and not having to put pressure on myself to function at a job. It was hellish, the feeling that I had no worth if I couldn’t find a job. In retrospect, I also don’t understand why no one ever gave me better career advice, like to consider self-employment.

This societal pressure needs to go away. Instead of scorning people who don’t work, we should be happy for them! It’s been very hard for me to learn this, but inner worth isn’t connected to outer employment. It’s connected to uncovering our own special ways of giving of ourselves.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Dear Amy: My friend is an alcoholic. Sometimes she tries to stop drinking.

In addition to the alcohol, she seems to be addicted to an abusive relationship.

When she is with the man, he verbally and physically abuses her, and she calls friends and parents for help, apparently truly frightened for her life.

He has threatened her family, too. He is a scary guy.

If someone steps up to rescue her, she plays with getting sober, may or may not find work, etc. Then the guy calls her, threatens to have her arrested on ridiculous charges, and “forces” her to return to him.

This cycle repeats itself. When she is sober and away from him, she appears to see how destructive the relationship is. But he always sucks her back in.

How can I (and her other family) help, other than prayer?

Do we continue to “rescue”? Do we leave her with him, knowing she could end up dead?

— Longtime, Worried Friend

Dear Worried Friend: This is an exercise in powerlessness and patience.

You cannot physically remove your friend from this abusive relationship, and so your task is to love her as much and as well as you can — patiently and without judgment.

Enabling can sometimes feel like rescue, and you should learn the difference. But yes, when she reaches out for “rescue,” you should do your best to respond.

Tell her you are worried about her. Tell her you are there for her. Tell her this doesn’t change the way you feel about her. Ask her if she is ready to get professional help, and then have the address and number for the Domestic Violence Hotline on hand: thehotline.org (or call 800-799-7233). (c) Ask Amy

Well, that seems mostly like non-advice. In all honesty, I’d probably quit being friends with this person. It’s hard–frustrating as hell–to watch someone who acts all victimized, who knows what she needs to do to help herself, but who gets drawn back into it for kicks. There are two kinds of people in this world: people who want to be lifted up to higher ground, and people who will continue to wallow in filth. This woman who the letter writer is describing seems entirely unwilling to help herself, and it’s impossible for me to respect that. It would wear thin.

I had a friend once named Femke who was mentally ill with delusional disorder. She was a young mother of a little boy who had everything going for her: she lived with her kind and loving father, who helped her take care of her son. Her ex-husband had lost the custody battle, which was good, because he was bad news. Femke deeply loved her son.

Her mental illness seemed to be entirely brain-chemistry based. She’d lose touch with reality and become manic almost, and during those periods of mania, she’d totally destroy her life. She’d usually regain awareness in a mental hospital.

At the mental hospital, she’d be medicated and, for all intents and purposes, cured. But then she’d be discharged, and she’d go off the meds right away. Why, you ask? Did she hate the side effects? No. Did she struggle to afford the drugs? No. She was addicted to the destructive state of mania she experienced while nonmedicated. Even the love of her son wouldn’t keep her on the meds.

She tried to convince me that she had Biblical fears that psychiatric drugs were immoral. I researched it for her, and it seems more apt that the Bible was referring to street drugs. Ultimately, though, I think she was spewing baloney. She didn’t want to be medicated, period, end of story.

So she wound up in the mental hospital again, where she stayed for some time. One day, I received an email from her. She wrote, “The nurse forgot to give me my meds! Oh, I can’t believe it. I’ll be high again sometime soon!”

I was facepalming all over the place. Nurses NEVER forget to give meds. I’d say there was a 99% likelihood that the nursing staff wanted to know if she’d report the “forgotten” meds. Because if not, they wouldn’t want to release her, knowing full well she’d go off the meds again straightaway. Right?

I didn’t feel it was ethical of me to tell her as much, so I gave her a strongly worded and actually somewhat scary lecture. I got about as scary as Meg can be. (I know, right?) I was like, “Now, you take your medicines. You go find a nurse and explain the mistake right now. Don’t make me tell you twice. Enough is enough.” The result of this? She quit being friends with me.

Eh.

It was a mutual parting of ways, because I couldn’t understand her priorities, especially since she loved her young son so much. I have no idea what became of her. Sometimes I wonder.

But that’s the point of this blog post. If you’ve got a friend who flat-out refuses to take any personal responsibility or ownership, then you’ve got a problem. Yes, we all have times where we make the wrong choice: we go back to a bad relationship. We go off our meds. (Well, I don’t. Just run fast and far if I do.) We make the wrong choices. What I’m talking about is people who do it consistently, who you try to help and reach out to, but it’s wasted energy. Because even though you hope they’ll do the right thing, and even though it seems as if they are, it’s not going to happen.

Should we give people one chance to be helped? Yes. A second chance? Yes. A third? Maybe. After that, I’d bail ship.

Well, this has been fun.

Dear Amy: My college friend, “Eliza,” recently moved to a new city. I connected her to my dear childhood friend, “Lexie.” The two women had met numerous times previously so I thought it would be nice for Eliza to have someone to show her around the new city.

The two have a lot in common besides friendship with me. They are both motivated, friendly, interested in arts and music, and are navigating the dating scene in the city.

I saw Lexie recently and she told me something Eliza said that really hurt her feelings. She took Eliza to brunch and offered to show her some of her favorite places around the city to meet new people.

Eliza said she couldn’t do what Lexie does: i.e. she couldn’t go home with random strangers and sleep with them! What a horrible thing to say!

I’m so embarrassed that my friend would say this, and I’m sad that Lexie had to hear it.

Should I say something to Eliza about this?

Should I end my friendship with Eliza for such an awful comment?

How should I respond to this?

— Friend Matcher

Dear Friend Matcher: When you set up two people for meeting and possible friendship, you’re taking a bit of a social risk. It’s not a hugely high-stakes risk, but it is a generous and thoughtful act, and you have a personal interest in the outcome.

The friendship between “Eliza” and “Lexie” is obviously a nonstarter because of Eliza’s rudeness. Lexie can handle herself in the unlikely event that Eliza seeks her out for continuing friendship.

Yes, this sort of rudeness toward an old friend would be a friendship-interrupter, if not a friendship-ender. Did Eliza think she was joking when she made this comment? Was there something about the context of the comment that might explain or excuse it?

Without making too many assumptions ahead of time, you should ask her. You can then choose to accept or reject her explanation, and then make your own choice about moving forward in friendship. (c) Ask Amy

Oh, geez. First of all, the letter writer should most definitely NOT end her friendship with Eliza over this. Seriously? As a source of second-hand info, she doesn’t know the context in which it was said, the reason why it was said, the tone of voice in which it was said, etc. If we were to end all friendships over second-hand conversations (i.e., between a friend and another friend; or between a friend and one of their friends), we’d be out of friends.

I bet it went like this:

Lexie: I know the best places to meet eligible sex partners.

Eliza: Oh, that’s… not really my style. I could never sleep with just anyone.

What else could Eliza say? She couldn’t exactly agree to do something she wasn’t comfortable with.

Another possible scenario:

Lexie: I love sleeping around.

Eliza [speaking admirably]: Oh, wow, I envy your extraversion! I could never sleep with someone I just met. I’m way too timid.

So, Ask Amy really thinks the letter writer should ditch her friend Eliza over this?!?! Is Ask Amy high?

However, I can understand why Lexie’s feelings were hurt. It’s possible Eliza was indeed rude, and/or that she was intentionally being hurtful. How might that have gone down?

Lexie: I know all the best places to meet new people. Let me take you…

Eliza: Tramp! Tramp! You whore! You shameless harlot!

Image result for golden girls blanche devereaux

[Thank you, Blanche Devereaux, for the illustration.]

Either which way, this is what the letter writer should’ve done:

Lexie: She called me a tramp!

Letter writer: Okay, back up. Exactly what happened?

If the letter writer knows Eliza well and can vouch for Eliza’s general friendliness and lack of hurtfulness, then the letter writer owes it to Eliza to get more info about what happened, and she also owes it to Eliza to defend Eliza’s honor.

The latter doesn’t have to be done in a way that would offend Lexie. It could be more like…

Letter writer: Are you sure? I’ve known Eliza a long time. She’s not the sort of person who deliberately hurts others’ feelings. Maybe it was a misunderstanding or a miscommunication?

As for whether the letter writer should discuss it with Eliza, good gracious, I’d say no. Aside from defending Eliza’s honor and trying to comfort Lexie, it’s not really something the letter writer needs to worry about too much. And hearing about it would probably make Eliza feel supremely self-conscious.

This blog post has been brought to you by Blanche Elizabeth Devereaux, whose initials spell BED.

 

 

Pass the cake!

NOTE TO EMILIA: I might discuss stuff that could trigger your particular phobia! Don’t be a hero! 🙂

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We frequently have my sister-in-law’s family over for family dinners. She and her husband have always allowed their 12-year-old son to choose not to eat any vegetables, and almost no fruit. He refuses to eat them because “he doesn’t like them.” This has gone on his entire life.

At Thanksgiving dinner, he will eat a small amount of turkey and probably several rolls. Dessert is always allowed, which he eats in full. This is bothersome not only to my wife and me, but to her other sisters and extended family members, also.

When they are at our house as our guests, are we on any valid ground to insist the kid eat a couple of green beans or carrots and some potatoes?

GENTLE READER: No. In fact, double no, because you should not attempt to train other people’s children unless specifically authorized to do so, and you should not be monitoring what any of your guests eat.

You will, of course, protest that the child is a relative and that you are concerned for his health. That is a topic that can be raised only by a relative who is on confidential terms with the parents and can do so without criticism of their child-rearing — and far away from the dinner table. (c) MISS MANNERS

Amen.

My parents never forced me to eat yucky foods. In fact, my mom is somewhat of a gourmet cook, and when I was growing up, she’d make great meals. She knew I preferred green beans to peas, so she made green beans quite often and never forced the pea issue. She knew I hated cheese, so cheese was never forced on me. My parents would make wonderful barbecue foods: grilled boneless ribs, fried potatoes, sourdough bread, and homemade strawberry shortcake for dessert. My childhood tasted delicious.

However, there were definitely some issues with extended family members who didn’t know their place at the table, so to speak. Some of them tried to force me to drink milk. On one memorable occasion, a well-intentioned maternal aunt insisted I eat some cream-cheese-covered broccoli. (I have no issue with broccoli itself.) It didn’t stay down longer than five minutes. As I stood wretching over the trash can, I like to think my aunt had the decency to feel guilty. (She looked guilty, that’s for sure. Like, “Oops.”) At any rate, that one incident ended the problem forevermore.

Fun with The Golden Girls:

Rose Nylund: When I get nervous I put my head between my knees.

Dorothy Zbornak: No, that’s for nausea.

Rose Nylund: When I’m scared I’m nauseous! Remember the time that guy tried to steal my purse?

Dorothy Zbornak [Nods knowingly]: Worked better than mace.

Image result for dorothy zbornak rose nylund

But I’ve also had trouble with the same extended family (on the maternal side) and food choices. Back when we’d celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas at Granny Franny’s house, I’d get some turkey, green beans, bread, and potatoes. I’d forgo the stuffing (ickers) and anything mushy looking or cheesey. There were comments. “Is that all you’re going to eat?” This, despite how I covered my entire plate with the few foods I like. This, despite my complete inability to whine, “There aren’t more foods that I like,” which would be rude.

So I’d always smile and say, “Yeah, these are my favorite foods.”

People get so confused about food. Like, how can you not like something that I like? You must not be tasting it right. [Eyeroll.] I would never comment on someone’s food choices, unless I had a genuine question or concern. For example, if someone were to cut out a slice of cake, set the slice aside, and then sit down with the remainder of the cake in front of them, I’d say, “You’re going to eat the whole cake?!” (Not that I judge…. pass the cake!)

Travel plans!

So, my trip to Sonya’s is rapidly approaching, and I need to be getting prepared!! I have some decisions to make about travel:

  1. Should I wear my cumbersome coat, or pack it and wear a warm jacket? I love my new winter coat–don’t get me wrong. But I’m afraid that I’ll get overheated on the planes, and I won’t want to have to deal with shoving it into the overhead and then remembering to free it upon landing.
  2. Should I wear my hearing aids, or should I pack them to wear when I get there? I’m used to not wearing them, so it wouldn’t be a hardship to go without them, but airports are one of those places where it’s important to hear. However, going through security with bionic ears will slow me down; and they might make me take them out, and they’re fragile.
  3. Should I get a flu shot? I have no idea why I’m waffling so badly on this! Hello, Meg, do you want to spend two weeks deliriously ill with Sonya forced to nurse you back to health? I should really consider the close proximity of germs on airplanes and in airports, not to mention the time of year.

Some decisions have already been made, like about my medicine: I’m going to pack enough in my luggage AND in my carry-on bag. If one gets lost or stolen, I’ll have the other. If any of you have any thoughts about any of these issues, feel free to share!

My new friend from the NYC Midnight forum and I have been having fun writing a novel together! It’s a Christmassy tale akin to A Christmas Carol.

Here are my and Sonya’s plans for fun!

  • We’re going ice skating!
  • We’re going shopping–Christmas shopping, and that sort of thing.
  • We’re going to some sort of angels-and-demons dress-up Christmas event Sonya described. Only in Prague, I’m telling you…
  • We’re going out to eat!
  • We’re going to see a church made out of bones (again, only in Prague…) and a castle filled with magical mirrors.
  • We’ll probably go to some writers’ meetings.
  • I hope to deck her apartment with festive Christmas things!

I loved Sonya’s apartment. However, she no longer lives there. She had to move, because her former landlord wasn’t following the Czech Republic’s rules for renting, and thus Sonya couldn’t get the paperwork she needed from her to keep living in Prague. I had an odd attachment to her apartment (I bond with locations quite strongly), and I know she loved it too, so I’ll try to gush over her new apartment and not wax nostalgic over her old one.

I also adore Sonya’s kitties. They are the sweetest little kitties ever! I really enjoyed spending time with them last year! And unlike my kitty–Mr. Kitty–Sonya’s kitties meow a lot! I love it! It’s such a precious sound!

I intend to spend a lot of time while Sonya’s at work catching up on my rest and planning what to do next year. I hope to get some creative inspiration, and to notate a lot of ideas, whether for novels or for woodworking or for life in general. I might take a special notebook there, and on the plane, to brainstorm ideas in.

I also hope to drag Sonya out of her head. She lives in Cerebral Land, and she tends to beat up on herself to a horrible extent because her self-published books aren’t selling that well; combined with the fact that she doesn’t have a literary agent to get her books officially published. My wish for Sonya is that she can see that she has value for who she is; that she doesn’t need to sell her books to be valued or heard.

Like, seriously, she spends every spare waking moment working on her writing–editing, marketing, promoting, submitting to agents, preparing for her writers’ groups, sending out newsletters, etc. She’s tireless. I want her to realize that life is about the people you spend it with, and how you give of yourself.

Sonya is the “best” person I know. She’s very virtuous. She never has a bad word to say about anyone, even when you freakin’ want her to! She has this ingrained belief (which we should all share) that anyone who acts badly is having issues that are about them. Literally, I’ve seen people (people I don’t know, and therefore have no bias against) treat her rather questionably, and she’s clinically incapable of saying an unkind word against them. She’ll be like, “Well, they have the right to feel that way, because…” And while some of it is passivity and incredible naivete on her part, most of it is just stunning maturity, the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else. I aspire to emulate her goodness. She’d laugh at that, but it’s true.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel inferior to Sonya. In some ways, my life has been harder than hers, so it’s natural that I tend to lash out at mean people, for example. I guess I just feel as if she and I have the sort of great friendship that can elevate both of us to higher places. I’m so flipping excited to see her again! It’s not often in life that you have such a great friend.

 

Dear Abby, Dear Abby, Dear Abby!

DEAR ABBY: I work retail and have bipolar disorder. (I have been stable for nine years.) A few Christmases ago, a customer called me “hateful” because I wished her a Merry Christmas. (She doesn’t come into the store anymore.) My manager and co-workers explained that she was in a bad mood that day, and it wasn’t my fault.

Due to my illness, I am obsessed with thoughts that it will happen again during the holidays, and I won’t know what to say or how to react, or I’ll think it’s my fault. Worse yet, I no longer want to say Merry Christmas again, although I will try. Do you have any advice in case I get another bad reaction? — GREETING IN THE EAST

DEAR GREETING: You did nothing wrong! When December rolls around, the expressions “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” are very common. If a customer takes offense, all you need to reply is, “Excuse me if I offended you.” And if you’re still worried about this issue, discuss it with your doctor or therapist. (c) DEAR ABBY

This makes me feel all manner of guilty, because I tend to be rather unsocial with salespeople. I probably wouldn’t tell them they’re hateful. In my case, if one of them said, “Merry Christmas,” I’d turn away and flee. I’m sure that also hurts their feelings.

I do wish that retail workers were better able to read me (and other customers in general), instead of projecting whatever they want onto me. I went into the drugstore several days ago, and this woman who works there–she’s very nice–forced me to talk to her. And I was in paranoid gear, so I couldn’t talk, not really. She kept going on and on about my haircut, and she made the interaction at the cash register take forever. It was excruciating. She must’ve been able to tell by my second noncommittal grunt that I was in shutdown mode, but she didn’t stop.

There was another employee hovering nearby with no customer to check out. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the lady who was talking to me was sending the silent message to her coworker of, “Look, I can get her to talk! Watch how hard I try.” And by golly, she was in it to win it.

Just shoot me.

Why, why, why, why, why, why, why must retail associates assume I’m a shy wallflower who needs to be opened up? Is paranoia that uncommon? Actually, I guess it is.

Anyway, this letter writer needs to understand the harsh realities of retail: you’re going to get customers in all manner of moods, stress levels, interaction levels, etc. That said, I feel bad for this letter writer because you can never count on customers to be pleasant.

How bad must the “hateful” exchange have been for this letter writer to still be upset about it a few years later? I’m sort of worried about her for obsessing. I think she might be in the wrong line of work, but is retail really the right line of work for anyone? It seems dismal and impossible to me.

DEAR ABBY: I want to know if I should ask my neighbor out. I’m a female, and I don’t want to come across as aggressive. I’m also a Christian who was taught that a woman should never ask a guy out. Could I ask him out to hang out — not necessarily for a date?

I’m a single parent of a 14-year-old. This neighbor is cute and single and has two kids. I don’t know him well. I’ve made many mistakes with men in the past, which is why I’m cautious. What’s your advice? — CAREFUL IN WYOMING

DEAR CAREFUL: Many men would be very happy to be asked out. Because you haven’t had the opportunity to get to know this man, it may be time to create one. Consider hosting a friendly get-together for some of your neighbors and invite him and his children to participate. You didn’t mention how old his children are, but if they hit it off with yours, so much the better. It’s a friendly gesture that shouldn’t be considered aggressive.

It’s been my experience that guys hate being pursued. It might be sexist or prejudicial of me to say as much, but they want to do the pursuing. And if they aren’t pursuing you, then they’re not interested. And if you pursue them and they are initially interested, they’ll get scared off. Sad, yet true. This is fact.

Remember the guy I liked who suffered the brain injury way back when he was younger? I may have come on too strong. No, we’re not talking me showing up on his doorstep in lingerie. All I did was send him an email telling him a little about my life and asking about his. That was two-and-a-half weeks ago. As odd as this will sound, my intuition tells me he didn’t like my initiating contact. He wanted to play that role. However, that makes him all wrong for me, because the fact is that I’m rather forward. I can’t seem to rein it in, either, so I’ll have to find a man who appreciates it.

But that’s just about the silliest Christian belief I’ve ever heard. Is it sinful or something to ask out a guy? Geez Louise. [Shaking my head.]

So the letter writer needs to get to know him with casual conversation and chance encounters. If she lets him know she’s interested, he’ll probably run screaming. Or maybe it’s just me who has that affect on men? [Snort.]

DEAR ABBY: I am a Southern belle who was given two “first” names, such as Mary Lou (Peggy Sue, Betty Ann, Bobbi Jo, etc.). All my life the second half of my first name has been dropped. When I sign in at a doctor’s office as “Mary Lou,” it never fails that when I’m called or the receptionist looks at my records, my name is listed as Mary even after I have explained that my name is Mary LOU. At the pharmacy, I am asked my birth date because they say they have several Mary Smiths, even when I say I am Mary LOU Smith. Can you please tell me what I can say so they will remember that I have two first names? — NOT JUST MARY, IN THE SOUTH

DEAR NOT JUST MARY: Try this the next time it happens. Look the person in the eye and say, “I prefer to be called by my full name. It’s Mary Lou, not Mary. Please note that in your computer so we can be clear about it.”

Yeah, that’s obnoxious. If I were she, I’d sign in at the doctor’s office thusly: MARY LOU Smith. That distinguishes her whole first name in caps. She could even put quotes around it: “MARY LOU” Smith. Hey, whatever you gotta do.

I used to have people calling me M-word at the doctor’s and the dentist’s and the bank. It was infuriating. Like Mary Lou, I’d sign in with my right name: Meg, but they’d still call me M-word at the door. I legally changed my name for a reason.

Mary Lou could also consider legally changing her name, either to MaryLou or Mary-Lou. Less of a hassle, though, in her case, would be for her to flat-out lie to her healthcare providers and pharmacy techs and say, “My name’s MaryLou (or Mary-Lou).” Because they’re not going to care about having her first name spelled wrong in the system when the mistake is a space or dash rather than a letter or letters. If I were Mary Lou, I’d go that route.

What was really difficult for me was that I’d ask the people at the doctor’s, the dentist’s, and the bank to call me Meg. And I asked REPEATEDLY. They didn’t care. Ultimately, I found a new doctor, a new dentist, and a new bank. You’d think it would be customer-service 101 to not lose someone over something so easy to handle, but they all lost me. There’s something to be said for “firing” doctors, et al, who don’t care enough to hear what you’re telling them.