[Some of the content of this feature previously appeared, in different form, within materials I wrote for Virgin Records America in the mid-1990s.]

ASK DR. BARNEEZLES
Send your questions in to our advice and information doctor!

Note: At the insistence of Dr. Barneezles’s attorney, Professor Oddfellow, the doctor must warn readers that requests for unsolicited advice will not be honored.


Many of you will be surprised to learn that our Dr. Barneezles only prints a fraction of the letters he receives. Most of the others get lost under his “desk,” which is actually a warped bumper-pool table that has been only partially converted into a work surface. (To be blunt: it boasts one drawer, which is currently stuck shut with peanut butter, and a small collection of jumbo paper clips arranged artistically around one of the bumpers.) It may seem incredible that an important literary figure like Dr. Barneezles would allow his correspondence to get lost under a bumper-pool table; but we must bear in mind that much of the time Dr. Barneezles himself is lost under the bumper-pool table, too.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
How do they make rye bread?

A: It’s grown from caraway seeds.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Does this letter need another stamp?


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
I’m having trouble making time for golf, with everything else I’ve got going on these days.

A: The heading clearly says “send your questions in” to Dr. Barneezles. What you have sent can be described as a statement, or even a complaint.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Hi, is this Dr. Barneezles?

A: Yes, it is.

DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Am I in print right now?

A: Yes, you are. What’s your question?

DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Are you the Dr. Barneezles who likes pencils, or the Dr. Barneezles who talks like an egg?


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Is it wrong of my aunt to claim that New York City is located in Illinois?

A: Please tell my aunt, I mean your aunt, that I’m still waiting for her to return my copy of the Moosewood Cookbook, and I’m tired of having to ask for it back. If I’d wanted it to take this long, I could just as well have loaned it to cousin Alvin. And you can also tell her it’s her turn to pick up the tab at Rudy’s next time, even if Darlene comes along.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Hey, what do you mean “I could just as well have loaned it to cousin Alvin”?

Cousin Alvin


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
What was that remark about “even if Darlene comes along”? It’s not like I’m the only one who orders those overpriced baskets of onion rings, you know.

Darlene


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Ahem. “Overpriced”? You have any idea what onions cost these days?

Rudy


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
My friend says the only proper way to make a Wordsworth costume is to flip the brim of the baseball cap up before you spread the guacamole on and even before you sprinkle the burnt toast crumbs on the plastic toucan. Is she right to tell me that, or am I right to insist that the laminated garbanzo beans always have to outnumber the crayon shavings? I hope you can settle this, because my friend is really bugging me. She also claims that Secretariat was never properly primed for the Kentucky Derby, and teases me every time I wear my “Secretariat Was Definitely Primed for the Kentucky Derby” T-shirt.

Stephen Hawking

A: I’m sorry, but I’m not here to entertain questions that can be easily answered by reference to any good household encyclopedia.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Do you like the way lipstick looks?

A: A lot depends on the container. A nice art deco chrome can bring out the best in a stick of lipstick, while some of those tacky black plastic jobs can make a stick of lipstick look very unappealing. Of course, I find that a really fine stick of lipstick will always look delightful in the nude, its luscious red tones glowing enchantingly in the moonlight.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
I can’t seem to get my computer to boot up. Any suggestions?

A: Did you try spreading peanut butter all over the modem? (I have no reason to believe that this will work ... I’m just curious as to whether you tried it.)


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
My wife and I were on vacation recently, and there was this funny sort of jester guy doing a mime thing in the town square. When writing postcards to our friends, I wanted to describe him as a harlequin— but is that the correct term? I know he wasn't a pierrot, because we have one of those at home.

A: As I explained at length in my recent bestseller, Letters to a Young Nuisance, technical inquiries of this sort are best referred to a specialist—such as that “Look at me, I'm a human statue” guy busking just to the left of your possible harlequin. Best of luck.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Where does the expression “in the wink of eye” come from?

A: This is a good question, because although the wording is “wink,” the meaning is actually more like “blink.” I would guess that “wink” used to mean “blink,” as well as meaning “wink.” The only question then is, what did “blink” mean? Blinders for horses were, I believe, once called “blinkers.” Does this mean that Venetian blinds used to be Venetian blinks? And if cars had been invented a couple of centuries earlier, would the turn signals be “winkers” instead of “blinkers”?


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Is it possible that my diet is properly balanced even though I don’t eat a lot of greens?

A: If you don’t eat a lot of greens, the trick is to make sure that the yellows and blues in your diet that add (or is it subtract?) in the digestive sub-tract to compose the greens are properly complemented by the contrasting hues in your regimen. The way to tell is to stare at your dinner for thirty seconds, then look away at your breakfast. If you see a “ghost” of your dinner in the opposite hue from your real dinner floating above your breakfast, then you should go back to bed.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
What typeface do you recommend for after sunset?

A: Red typefaces go great with pasta. In the bouquet, look for hints of vanilla, black currant, butter pecan, raspberry vinaigrette, cumin, turmeric, dried cardamom pods and cooking sherry. But if you’re stepping out for the evening wearing a sans serif, you may need a wrap in the chill night air.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
How can I avoid those long lines at Disney World?

A: Don’t go to Disney World.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Why does a novelist/musician/painter invariably think that what (s)he is currently working on is better than anything (s)he’s ever done before?

A: When an artist is working on something new, there’s a special chemical secreted in the brain that deludes him/her into thinking that the work in progress is the best thing (s)he’s ever done. This is the result of a natural selection process: as the artistic species evolved, the artists who didn’t have this secretion didn’t bother to finish what they were working on, and thus their work did not survive. The chemical lingers in the brain long enough for the artist to give interviews and do other things to promote the new book/album/painting, for which some degree of hormonally subsidized enthuasism is required. Otherwise they’d all stay in bed like sensible people.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Why does it seem to take forever to drive across New York State?

A: Because of the shape and geographical orientation of New York State, time actually slows down north of New York City and makes all travel seem incredibly monotonous. Einstein called this the upstate temporal distortion effect, which he discovered during a trip from Princeton to Cornell. Note that it also explains the phenomenon of the “[downstate] New York minute.”

Furthermore, recent studies have suggested that the magnetic field of the earth has a slight bulge around New York State, which is thought to be related to the type of metal reinforcements used in the structural mass of the Erie Canal locks. This also helps explain the time-dilation effect.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
How did the Italian Renaissance begin?

A: The Italian Renaissance began when Dante discovered the letter U in the wild. Within a few short decades, the outgoing and charismatic U had almost completely replaced the Roman V in secular vowel applications. Without Dante, modern developments like “U Pull It” junkyards and U-Haul truck-rental franchises would have been impossible.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
I’m hoping you can help me with a little problem I’m having with my eraser. Well, the problem isn’t really with the eraser—the eraser erases and everything. Okay, I shouldn’t say “and everything,” because basically it just erases and that’s pretty much it. But that was all I expected when I bought it, so that’s fine.

The problem, actually, is with my coworker Jill. You see, every time I take out my eraser to erase with it, Jill starts telling me how she had an eraser just like this one when she was a kid. The anecdote was mildly engaging, from a human interest point of view, the first time I heard it. But I really didn’t need to hear it again after that, particularly when I’m trying to concentrate on erasing. So I pointed out to Jill, with extreme tact and sensitivity, that she tells this story every time I use the eraser. And ever since, when I take out the eraser, she inevitably says “I guess I’ve already told you how I had that same eraser when I was a kid, huh?” I’ve heard this about seventeen times now.

So here’s where I could use some advice: Do you think Jill and I should sleep together after the company banquet this Thursday?

Sincerely,
Sanders Caraway


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
What, precisely, is a first cousin?

A: The relative who sits closest to the conductor.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Thanks for providing your readership with all these wonderful insights, tips, provisos, caveats, cravats, caviars, warnings, pointers, retrievers, terriers, and poodles. I recently saw that you had received a lifetime achievement award from the American Association of Mavens and Kibitzers, and I hope you’ll allow me to be the first person in this paragraph to congratulate you. In fact, I’m planning on writing a profile about you on my blog, though I thought I should probably check with you first, if only as a formality (I’m wearing white tie and tails).

But that’s not my question. My question is, what do I do to become an introvert?

P.S. Any autographed photos that you can spare (not necessarily of you) will be greatly appreciated (not necessarily by me).

A: Thank you for the snapshot of Canandaigua Lake (or was that someone else?). Anyway, before you can become an introvert, you have to go to school, and then do an internship. Extroverts do an externship.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
My neighbor, a young woman whom I’ll call Iridesca Sprnorzviddles (not her real name), claims to be an expert unicyclist. However, whenever anyone shows her a unicycle and asks her to display her skills, she claims that it’s the “wrong kind” of unicycle, and that she only rides the “other kind.” She does this even when shown one or another of the many unicycle in her own garage. When pressed, she maintains that it’s an issue of front-wheel versus rear-wheel drive.

E.G. Exemplar, L.E.D.

A: Are you asking for advice, or merely bragging? I’m a busy man, you know, and I’d like to finish my lunch before the next letter arrives.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Oops! I was writing to invite you lunch, but I can see I’m too late. Say, are you going to eat that pickle?

With a side salad and breadsticks,
Pleat Z. Trousers, P.N.D.*
*Possessor of No Degree


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
I am currently on a quest for advice about all aspects of my hair—length, color, texture ... Please note that the advice does not necessarily have to be good advice.

Shirley Wilby
Wilby, Woodby, & Iz, LLC

A: Remember, your hair is an ensemble. It’s not so much about length as about longness, about color as about hue, about texture as about texture. If I haven’t made all this clear enough, then try a clarifying shampoo.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
I notice in your picture that you’re eating a sandwich. I'm just wondering what kind of sandwich it is.

Nosy

A: Dear Nosy—
You have mailed your question to the wrong address. This is the regional headquarters of the Lint Specifications Association. We think it’s hummus with a little tomato.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Which of these do you think looks better with my hair this way?

George Bernard Shaw

A: H. G. Wells asked me the same question in last week’s column. Do me a favor and come with something original next time, instead of this empty aping of other writers. No one likes an empty ape.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
You are standing on my foot. It’s not uncomfortable, but I do have to get off at the next stop.

The Person Behind You on the Subway


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
My boss doesn’t understand me. He’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, and my workplace antics are neither meat nor potatoes. Here’s an example: Our store is called Buy-Low, and before my boss arrived on Toozday [sp?] I replaced all the signage with similar-looking signs that actually said “Bile-O!” Am I wrong in thinking that my boss should have been amused rather than annoyed?

A: People rarely allude to bile these days. “And why not, may I ask?” you ask. Well might you ask! Centuries ago, it was believed that human physiology was ruled by bodily “humors”—blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and parmesan peppercorn bile. Some sources also allude to green bile, but this is really just a spicier variation of yellow bile, with additional basil. For one reason or another (or several reasons all mixed together into reason stew), the concept of bodily humors eventually ceased to be amusing, and it was removed from the network’s fall schedule. I believe this answers your question, unless I’m missing a nuance. (I haven't counted up the nuances in my nuance drawer lately, so it’s certainly possible.)


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
I am probably your biggest fan. I say this with some confidence, knowing that you are pretty much a third-rate columnist; thus, I am sure that the high regard in which I hold you can be considered wildly generous.

As your biggest fan, I’m deeply embarrassed to have had your birthday marked incorrectly on my calendar. Rest assured that once I realized I didn’t know your correct birthday, I Made It My Business To Find Out—because That's The Kind of Guy I Am. A Guy With Some Extra Capital Letters Lying Around. So my question is, is it possible to be just shallowly embarrassed? It sounds like that might be fun.

Kentucky Lexington, M.D.-at-Law

A: Birthdays—especially my own—are a subject I approach with relish (and a little mustard, thanks). It’s hard to describe the crisp, snappy qualities that make a birthday feel different from any other day ... except possibly by using words like “crisp” and “snappy” to describe it. What were thinking of getting me?


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
I couldn’t help noticing that the word “you” appears to be missing from the last sentence of your reply above. Please advise.

Jules Garrulous
Garrulous & Gregarious, Theatrical Agents

A: Here is your replacement word: you
Please note that it is only available in italic at this time.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
My daughter is engaged to an astronomer. I don’t really understand what an astronomer does, but I’ve never* had the nerve to ask him. Can you shed any light?

*ever

A: If I shed light, the astronomer won’t be able to see what he’s looking at. This notwithstanding, I will try to answer your question. Pardon me a moment while I consult my notes. [A, C, E, G-sharp ... yep, they’re all here on the keyboard where they belong.]

The job of the astronomer is to show us that various inconceivably distant and consequently, from our vantage point, inconceivably tiny objects would be inconceivably large if, by traveling for an inconceivably long time (which of course we can’t), we arrived where they are—or rather where they would be if they were still there, which they wouldn’t be. These scientists continue to bend every effort to address the pressing question of whether a universe which is infinitely large is more or less infinitely large than it was when it came into existence. If you’re interested (and even if you’re not), you can find much more information on this complex subject by pestering the clerk in the gift shop of your local planetarium.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Can you read my 3,500-page novel and give me your opinions? (If it will help, my fictional characters are willing to drop by your office.)

A: Oh, brother. (And please note that when I say, “Oh, brother,” I do not intend any slight toward my sister. The fact of the matter is, my sister is unavailable for this figure of speech, being previously committed to a lead role in a cliché across town.)

Questions like this are really beyond the scope of my Lavoris. But your fictional characters are welcome to drop by anytime I’m not here. They’ll find the fictitious coffee on the imaginary sixth shelf of the make-believe pantry, and they’re welcome to check their fanciful email on my nonexistent Windows 99 computer. I can’t vouch for the weather, of course—so if they come, they’ll want to bring their own weather vouchers.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Why are snacks sold at baseball games called concessions?

A: Concession, in the context of “concession stand,” is a bastardization of the German Kunstessen, lit. “art meal”—i.e., the hors d’oeuvres served at art-gallery openings.

DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Wow. Really?

A: No. But the point I wish to belabor in this regard is that cats are on record as liking yarn.


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
Is it bad manners to wish someone a happy birthday when you know it isn’t his or her birthday?

Autoreply: Dr. Barneezles is out of the office.
Hi, I’m out of the office! I’m so far out of the office that I’ve practically made it across the hallway into another office! Boing! Boing!! Boing!!!

A: Hey, how’d you know it wasn’t my birthday?

Cousin Alvin


DEAR DR. BARNEEZLES:
I can’t help noticing that your column reads like something that was written by half a pound of macaroni and cheese.

A: Go suck an egg.

[This feature has been discontinued.—Ed]


“ASK DR. BARNEEZLES” IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF PEOPLE WHO THINK PENNSYLVANIA IS SOUTH OF NEVADA. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOUR OWN OPINIONS ABOUT THE LOCATION OF PENNSYLVANIA WITH RESPECT TO NEVADA PRINTED IN THIS COLUMN IN THE FUTURE, PUT A STALE FIG BAR ON YOUR HEAD AND RECITE THE POETRY OF W. B. YEATS INTO A CAN OF ESPRESSO BEANS.

SOUND LIKE A LOT OF NONSENSE? WELL, DID WE EVER SAY IT WASN’T?


Back to Monkeys 1, Typewriters 0 contents.
All content by Jonathan Caws-Elwitt. This page revised February 17, 2009.