Service of Advice Columns

January 21st, 2013

Categories: Advice

Unsolicited advice annoys, but thousands seek it and write columnists and call radio and TV talk show opinion-sharers and millions more absorb the counsel. I’ve always wanted to write such a column, and when Martha Takayama alerted me to Pauline Phillips’s death at 94 last week–Mrs. Phillips, below right, was the Abby of Dear Abby–it seemed like the right time to write about the idea.

Abby was funny. Margalit Fox began her New York Times obituary with a typical back and forth: Dear Abby: My wife sleeps in the raw. Then she showers, brushes her teeth and fixes our breakfast – still in the buff. We’re newlyweds and there are just the two of us, so I suppose there’s really nothing wrong with it. What do you think? – Ed Dear Ed: It’s O.K. with me. But tell her to put on an apron when she’s frying bacon.

Humor helps in so many instances and there’s nothing I like better than to laugh ’til I cry but my hypothetical column wouldn’t be funny if only because I don’t quip well. Also some subjects don’t lend themselves to lightheartedness and comedy. But what fun to research and compose answers. Guess I’m a frustrated psychologist, interior designer or artisan as my hypothetical column would either respond to life queries, or decorating/remodeling challenges or craft challenges and I’d solicit expert suggestions when appropriate.

I once called then radio talk show chef, Mike Colamenco[photo left], to ask if it was safe to cook and eat a raw chicken that wasn’t refrigerated overnight [by mistake] even though our house is kept pretty cool. Mike’s answer: “No.” [He’s on TV now.] And I called a gardener with a houseplant question but I never wrote or called a psycologist or life expert. Have you?

Would you like to write a column, or host a call-in-for-advice talk show, and if so, what subject would you choose?

6 Responses to “Service of Advice Columns”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    Advice columns are succinct entertainments. People are intensely curious about other people’s problems and concerns. Sometimes the advice is sound, but much of the time it’s a punch line…and the joke is on the letter writer.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Merv,

    Concise and perfectly said/written. I guess the zingers keep readers interested and it’s the readers, not the advice-seekers, who keep the columnist in business.

  3. Scott Ossian Said:

    No, I never wanted to write an advice column, nor did I ever read or listen to one either — voluntarily, that is. However, I did once have a friend who had made her living for more than a decade writing a daily fortune telling column for a major New York tabloid.

    She was sweet, plain, intelligent, sensible, decent, mildly uninteresting, and like most New Yorkers neurotically insecure. What she did have going for her was that she had the patter down pat (“Venus in the field of Jupiter, with Capricorn rising,” and so forth), and could knock a column off in no time. Of course, she didn’t believe a word of the nonsense, but then she was never cruel in what she wrote, which I suppose is why the paper paid her badly, practically nothing for what was pretty slick work. I felt for her.

    It also fascinated me that millions actually read her column before buying a stock or making a dinner date. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

  4. Lucrezia Said:

    The late Ann Landers was highly entertaining, succinct, appeared to be ruled by common sense and did not lower herself to punch lines. Neither does todays Jeanne Marie Laskas of the Readers Digest. She can be brutal, but seems to know when it’s called for. It’s fun to read about problems and then compare the answers to ones own. Other than those two, I am not familiar with advice columnists, but feel it’s illogical to tar them all with the same brush. Different personalities are involved, as are differing approaches.

    I have not written for advice, though it sometimes would be interesting to see what happens.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Scott,

    One of our President’s wives may have read her column too. I’ve read that Nancy Reagan advised against planning meetings on certain days and so forth according to Horoscope readings or an advisor in the field.

    I worked in an office where we’d race to read the Horoscope at the back of Town & Country as soon as the magazine arrived.

    I wouldn’t want to write a Horoscope–don’t know about sun and mercury rising and that kind of thing, nor do I plan my life around the readings though I admit to checking out my Horoscope every time I get my hands on a copy of the New York Post. When it’s positive, I’m happy.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I’ll have to check out Jeanne Marie Laskas’ column! I generally read the various ones in the Sunday NY Times–one on ethics, one about life situations. I can’t find Dr. Joy Browne on the radio anymore but at one time she was on when I washed dishes and I appreciated her direct approach. When she goes off into tangents such as movie reviews, I like that less. She should stick to her specialty.

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