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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Never Mind Why

Schmutter-061413

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I would have to say that one of the most annoying things about having a newspaper advice column, aside from all these people writing to me and asking for advice, is that they frequently don’t tell me WHY they’re asking.

Of course, as a professional, it’s not really my job to ask them why they’re asking. I’m happy enough that they’re willing to share this snippet of their lives with my reading public for the sake of me probably not providing a useable answer and possibly forgetting to make up a fake name for them.

Also, because of the constraints of this column, I don’t exactly get to write back and ask for more details. It can’t be like,

“Dear Mordechai,

How do I explain to my future father-in-law why he walked in on me proposing to a floor lamp?

Almost Engaged”

And then I write,

“Dear Almost,

Why WERE you proposing to a floor lamp?”

And then we go back and forth, and this column becomes less about helping people, and more about trying to get one guy to open up about his problem.

So I kind of just have to work with what I have, or imagine what kind of scenario someone would possibly be in to have asked me his or her question. And if that comes at the expense of providing helpful answers, then so be it.

Dear Mordechai,

I need to know some of the benefits of being overweight. Never mind why.

Big-boned

Dear Big,

Yeah, those aren’t easy to find, which is weird, because there are so many of us out there. You’d think we’d all chip in and fund a study.

The truth is that there might be benefits, but none of them are health benefits. For example, we’re not expected to be athletic.

But luckily for you, there was a recent study at NYU that says that people are more likely to survive car accidents these days, because we’re bigger around the middle. Apparently, we all come with airbags now. On the other hand, we might be more likely to get into accidents in the first place, because we’re all reading studies on our phones. And eating. Also, we tend to drive more.

So now you have something to tell your wife, or whoever else is on your case, so they can say, “Wow. If being overweight makes people safer, you must be invincible!”

Dear Mordechai,

How do I remember which knob is hot and which is cold? Never mind why.

Houseguest

Dear House,

My guess is you’re about to get into the shower. On sinks, we usually remember. But on tubs, especially if we’re reaching in sideways, our coordination gets thrown off. It also doesn’t help that when you first turn on the water, both directions are the same temperature. Then the water gets hotter on its own, after you get in.

So if you don’t remember which side is hot and which is cold, look for a helpful H or C. C stands for “cold”, or possibly “cham.” I never remember. H stands for “hot”, or possibly “Hashem YERACHEM that’s cold!”

Another way to tell is that the cold water tap is traditionally on the right. This tradition goes all the way back to Old Europe, when both knobs were cold. But the reason for this is so that people absent-mindedly turning on the water with their right hand won’t burn themselves. So in other words, if you’re a lefty, then good luck. This is why lefties have shorter life spans.

(I’m actually a lefty, but I make up for it by being overweight.)

Of course, there’s always a chance your contractor didn’t know this reason, and put it in backwards. Or he did it from the other side of the wall.

That said, the best way to tell is to turn it on and try it out the hard way. Then, once you’ve finished shrieking, brave your way back to the tap, sometimes by leaving at the foot of the tub and coming back in at the head, and try to even it out.

“Um… Which direction undoes what I just did?”

Dear Mordechai,

How do I have a conversation in public with someone whose name I don’t remember, nor care to remember? Never mind why.

Social Caterpillar

Dear Whatsisname,

Don’t worry, I don’t think less of you for it. This happens to me all the time. I’m a Language Arts teacher in my local mesivta, and as such, there are increasingly more people all the time who know me, but I have no clue who they are. I can’t remember hot and cold since the last time I took a shower, I’m going to remember a kid I had 7 years ago who looks nothing like he did then? I look pretty much the same, besides for gaining some extra weight. I’ve kept my part of the bargain. Whereas they are now sprouting all kinds of hair and pimples and various stages of lankiness, such as the one where your head is bigger than your body, and the one where your hands are bigger than your head.

But I run into them at the supermarket, and they’re all, “Hey, Mr. Schmutter!” That’s how I know they used to be my students. No one else calls me “Mr. Schmutter.” If someone knows me from my articles, they usually abortively try calling me “rabbi” first.

Now most of the time when this happens with other people who probably weren’t my students, I try to talk to them long enough so that while we’re talking, I can piece together the clues and try to remember their names. (“Let’s see, he asked about my car, and he mentioned Queens. Then there’s his age, and his hair color…”)

But with students, most of those clues sound pretty much the same. (“Let’s see, he was in my class, and he went to that school. And his age is the same as everyone else’s.”) That narrows it down.

So these days, when they say, “Mr. Schmutter!” I say, “Hey, it’s you!” And they’re like “Yeah, it is! How did you recognize me?” And then I take the clues that I know, and I fake it:

“Still in that yeshiva? I figured. Still hate going to class? Heh. Are you still in contact with everyone else? Wow. Did you ever finish that assignment?”

There’s always one assignment he didn’t finish.

Of course, experts say that in this situation, you should go, “Where are my manners? I haven’t introduced you to this guy,” and then you pull in a friend you’ve brought along for just such purposes. But I can’t bring someone I know every time I go to the supermarket.

Maybe I should pull random people out of the aisle and go, “Have you met this guy?” Sure, I don’t know that guy either, but I’ll hear his name when he tells my student. Then I’ll walk away and hope I get far enough before they get to the part of their conversation where they’re wondering why I said they should meet each other.

Have a question for “You’re Asking Me?” I’ll make up a fake name for you. I might as well. I can’t remember your real one.

Never mind why.

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