In order to expand the readership of this column, I am flirting with a new personal advice format for a self-absorbed age. To kick off the new Ask Reggie feature, I am hoping to receive correspondence like this:
I understand that henceforth you will be writing a personal advice column for the socially inept and romantically challenged, as those topics are much more interesting than the boring stuff you usually write.
Here is my problem: Since the presidential election, my husband and I have felt great unease with our friends at social events. Our concern is that they may have voted for the new president (I don’t want to mention his name because we feel it only encourages him). As we see it, this amounted to declaring that they had lost their minds.
Of course, you-know-who trailed in the popular vote by several million ballots but somebody must have voted for him and what a blot on our social standing if word leaked out that some of these confused people were our friends. You can’t be too careful these days.
Of course, I don’t want to cut loose any friends just for making a monumental error of judgment. After all, we have a constitutional right to be stupid in this country and, besides, some friends owe us dinner after we invited them over to our house and they didn’t invite us back.
In fact, I don’t want to know how they voted. For one thing, their minds cannot be changed and regret is out of the question, no matter what folly or falsehood is perpetrated. Apparently it is a cult thing with them.
Most of all, I just want to go on pretending that our friends are smart like us. I intend to change the subject whenever politics comes up but what can we talk about safely as an alternative?
Mary from Sewickley, Pa.
Your question recalls what our mothers always told us: Never discuss politics or religion in social settings. But mom never told us what to discuss instead. No doubt she was too busy yelling at dad for voting for Richard Nixon.
A further problem is that for many people today politics has become a religion, which may explain why a vengeful Almighty has allowed us to become so miserable.
Before I give my answers, I must point out that people who did vote for the man in the White House have the same feelings as you only in reverse. They want to think their friends are smart like them and not dummies like those who voted for the lady in the pants suit. They too have an interest in knowing what can be talked about safely in polite society.
Sports. That’s always a safe topic and can be discussed anywhere in the country where people are at a loss for something to say. If desperate, they can ask: “How about them Toledo Mud Hens?”
On second thought, the question of whether players should stand or kneel for the national anthem may come up. Better leave sports alone until the issue is forgotten.
The weather. That’s something good to talk about. “Strange weather we have been having lately, eh?” Wait, better not mention the weather because somebody might bring up climate change and you could reap a political whirlwind.
Food. If you are invited to dine at someone’s home, it is perfectly acceptable to praise your hosts for the meal, even if smoke is pouring out of the stove.
However, someone may ask if salads stand in peril of being doused with more pesticides now that regulation is everywhere being reduced. And don’t get anybody started on the subject of who picks the salad, i.e., poor Hispanic workers. Better not talk about food at all, as it may cause social indigestion.
Don’t ask to use the bathroom either. You may think this is a piddling concern but commentary about same-sex bathrooms may be invited.
Also, don’t mention historic statues, health care or hurricane aid. Political correctness, move over for social paralysis.
Mary, there’s nothing safe to say about anything, so just say nothing and pass the chips.
Could you please have an extramarital affair with the tennis pro and then write back to me? It would be easier to give advice on that.
Reg Henry is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist.