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“Après moi le déraillement”

Off the Deep End: Pat Answers

Pesky Neighbors 
Love and Dating 
Family and/or Loved Ones 
Pat Answers for the Workplace 
Pat Answers Commuters 

Pesky Neighbors

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2005

Dear Pat:

My neighbor is always cutting across my yard. I have asked him nicely to stop but he insists on using our property as a shortcut. Now my nice lawn is scarred by the tire tracks from his pickup truck. I am frustrated and furious!

Trespassed Upon

Dear Trespassed,

It sounds like maybe you need to take an anger-management class. If you are angry, you need to ask yourself, “What’s wrong with me?” not “What’s wrong with my neighbor?” Meanwhile, I think you need to establish some boundaries to control your own emotions. With all the new homeland security products on the market, I think you could find some attractive concrete barriers to surround your yard. Just be sure your neighbor doesn’t get hurt driving into them, or you could find yourself causing even more trouble, and this time you would have to pay for the harm you’ve caused.

Dear Pat:

Several times a week after dark, my neighbor starts doing yard work. He has bright floodlights on poles and he turns these on and uses his power mower and gas-powered weed whacker and digs in his yard, making a lot of noise and keeping me awake till midnight. Isn’t this against the law?


Dear Sleepless:

Aren’t you just a little bit paranoid? Just because the poor man digs in his yard at night doesn’t mean you can practically accuse him of burying bodies there. And just because you go to bed early doesn’t mean the rest of the world has to adapt to your schedule. I am really tired of hearing you so-called “morning people” whine about people who light one candle to banish the darkness. How do you think we feel when you are out there mowing your yard at 10 a.m. while we’re trying to sleep? You need to get over your selfishness if you want to be a good neighbor.

Dear Pat:

Whenever I say good morning, my neighbor doesn’t answer me. I thought that maybe he is hard of hearing (he is kind of old), so I have tried shouting. I know he’s in there, because his car is still in the driveway when I leave for work. I know he’s not dead, because his paper is in the driveway every morning and gone every night. How can I get this old codger to act neighborly?

Friendly Guy

Dear Friendly Guy:

It’s high time you had a lesson in good manners. Standing outside your neighbor’s house at the crack of dawn and shouting, “Good morning!” is not going to get you the response you wish. Maybe he is hard of hearing, or maybe he is retired and is still asleep when you go to work. Please be considerate, because old people get lazy. The neighborly thing to do, if you want to talk to him in the morning, is to ring his doorbell like a civilized human being. If he doesn’t answer the door within a few seconds, just go to work and leave him alone. If you do this for a week and he still hasn’t responded in a neighborly manner, then stop trying. Maybe he is not a “morning person.”

Steve Dunham is an advice columnist dispensing neighborly advice under the pen name “Pat.”

Love and Dating

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2008

Dear Pat,

I am in love for the first time and the feeling is wonderful. I am crazy about this girl. But I cannot get her to notice me! I can’t even get a chance to meet her, because I have only seen her on TV. How can I let her know that I am her knight in shining armor?

Prince Charming Wannabe

Dear Prince,

Yours is a classic case of unrequited love. Despite your best efforts, the one you love does not even know you are alive. Love like yours demands persistence. For example, if you call her up, you probably get a voicemail system with messages like “To book a TV appearance for Lola-licious, dial 1” and “If you are a teenage boy in love with Lola-licious, hang up now.” So you need to express your love with actions. You should cover your walls with posters of her, buy all her movies, and buy all her CDs (if you have not done this already). Putting your wallet where your heart is will surely please her.

Dear Pat,

My boyfriend is so secretive, he won’t tell me where he works or how much money he makes. I haven’t met his family, and he hasn’t introduced me to his friends either. We both want to get married, but when I ask about his background, he says I am prying, and he says his first three wives were the same way. How can I get him to communicate?

Blind Love

Dear Blind,

This is what I call a “pattern.” Probably there is something in your background that makes you distrustful of people. Getting men to communicate is always difficult, but it sounds like you are a “control freak.” You need to give people more space to be who they are, and stop trying to saddle them with your emotional “baggage.”

Dear Pat,

My fiancé is a real catch! He has a steady job, he is nice to me and my family, he is kind to his younger brother and sister, and in every way seems like he would be a great husband and father—except one: he likes to play golf. Superficially he seems like a good man, but I don’t want to end up a “golf widow.”

Wondering What I Caught

Dear Caught,

Your problem has a psychological name: “performance orientation.” You are judging your fiancÚ by his behavior. Actions may speak louder than words, but you don’t have to listen. You are right to look to the future, and do you know what I see? You are at home on a Saturday morning with crying children while your husband is out playing golf. You are practically widowed already. You should think about finding a man with whom you have more in common.

Dear Pat,

My boyfriend and I both love comic books. We also love movies that are based on comic books. We would like to get married and share our comic books, but he would still own his and I would still own mine. Also, we would like to start a website about comic books and maybe we could make some money from it. This would be good because right now neither of us has a job. Do you have any advice for us?

Comic Lovers

Dear Comics,

It is encouraging to hear from young people who are planning beyond their wedding day and thinking about their life after they get married. And while a “pre-nuptial agreement” might sound out of place for two people who are out of work, it sounds to me like you have a good head on your shoulders.

Pat is an advice columnist who has a good head on her shoulders.

Pat Answers for the Workplace

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2008

Dear Pat,

After laying off half the employees, the company made me head of the “morale committee.” I have to do it on my lunch hour, and I’ll get laid off too if I don’t improve employee morale. I don’t know what to do!

Company Loves Misery

Dear Misery,

Cheer up! That’s quite an honor to be head of the morale committee. The first thing I’d do is start an employee appreciation program. Clearly you and the other employees need to show appreciation for your bosses. While the managers are out at a restaurant having lunch, why don’t you lead your co-workers in concocting a happy surprise for the bosses when they return? You could use waste from the shredder to throw confetti and cheer for the bosses when they come back from lunch. (Be sure to stay after work to clean it up.) That’s what I’d call a real “morale builder”!

Dear Pat,

I understand that corporations want “productive” workers, but they can be really unreasonable. I have had many jobs, and at every one, the boss has insisted that I come to work by 9 a.m. (or even earlier!). We are not machines. We are human beings.

Out of Work Again

Dear Out of Work,

It’s about time (ha, ha!) you and your bosses learned about a wonderful thing called “flextime.” Basically, you come to work whenever you want to, and as long as you get all your work done, it’s OK. Now, if you work in a store that opens at 10, you might have to adopt a different attitude, which is this: pretty soon everybody will be doing “e-commerce” anyway, so let’s not get too hung up on store hours. Besides, if you have sales at the hours you prefer (such as 5 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving), people will be flexible and come to shop when you want them to. Meanwhile, you don’t have to go to work, so you have the ultimate flextime. Enjoy it!

Dear Pat,

It is so hard to find dedicated employees nowadays. They rush out the door at night, and they are cranky about coming to work on weekends. How can I attract people who will put their jobs first?

Unappreciated Employer

Dear Unappreciated,

You need to understand that even workers have competing priorities, and although they love their jobs, they often feel obligated to their families as well. Have you heard of “telecommuting”? People use a computer and the Internet to do their jobs from home. However, not all work can be done from home, so many companies are turning to a better system called “reverse telecommuting”:* with a little help from you, your workers can take care of family business without leaving the office. You might give them an hour of free Internet access every evening, along with 10 minutes of free phone calls. You could also reward your “high performers” with local cable TV (in reasonable amounts, of course) so they could watch things like little league games. This takes an investment by the company, but if you help people take care of family concerns long distance, they won’t have to leave the workplace. This is what I call a “win-win” situation!

* Doug Good thought up the phrase “reverse telecommuting.”

† Al Gore invented the Internet.

Dear Pat,

Would you please address the issue of gifts at work? Sometimes I feel like buying gifts for others gets to be a burden.

Frequent Shopper

Dear Shopper,

You didn’t say whether you are a worker or a boss, but it really does make a difference. If you are a boss, then gifts are a way to recognize employee performance. The ones who remember you on your birthday, your anniversary, Christmas, Boss’s Day, etc., are showing you that they are loyal employees, and those are the ones you want to favor: make sure they get raises and bonuses and words of appreciation from you. Occasionally, gifts may need to go in the other direction. For example, if you are dating one of the employees, it’s important to give her frequent gifts so she knows she is your favorite among all the other workers. On the other hand, if you are one of the worker bees, then it’s only common sense to remind the queen that you are a loyal part of the hive. Just consider it a job expense, like buying a monthly subway pass or getting nice clothes to wear to work (if you have money left for that). The one thing you want to avoid is getting things like birthday gifts for your co-workers. That kind of showing off just leads to gossip.

Steve Dunham is an advice columnist and reverse telecommuter.

Family and/or Loved Ones*

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2008

Dear Pat,

My older brother pulls my hair, calls me names, hogs the TV, and makes fun of my friends. How can I get him to treat me like a buddy? By the way, he is 46.

Unhappy Baby Sister

Dear Unhappy,

Your brother is probably going through a “midlife crisis.” This is a stage of immaturity that males go through between the ages of 1 and 79. But do you really want to be treated like one of his buddies? When he’s with them, he probably gets drunk, talks too loud, swears, and tells “jokes” that aren’t funny. If you want to be treated differently, you need to take the first step and reach out to him. Try treating him like one of your buddies. Invite him to go shopping with you and treat him to a romantic movie. You might be surprised at his reaction!

Dear Pat,

All my husband does is watch football, except in the summer, when he watches baseball. All he talks about is sports. He won’t go to our daughter’s violin recital because violin music is not a sport. How can I get him to take an interest in the rest of the family?

Married to Football

Dear Married,

Marriage is a big job, as you are finding out. Being married to a sport or to an appliance, such as a television, is even harder. You need to look for common areas in which you can relate. For example, have you noticed how popular the Super Bowl commercials are? You could start by having conversations about TV commercials, and maybe your daughter could get her father’s attention by learning to play some commercial jingles on her violin. She might be the next Barry Manilow!

Dear Pat,

My parents are so strict with me! They won’t let me stay out late, they make me call them if I don’t come straight home from school, they won’t let me watch R-rated movies, and they won’t let me date! How can I get them to loosen up?

Ready to Rock

Dear Ready,

Your parents may be thinking of how irresponsible they were when they were your age. Probably they made some bad choices about friends, dating, what movies to watch, and where they went after school. You should try to show them how responsible you are. Give them a chance to meet the boys you want to date. And I know this is a painful choice, but you could think about getting a job.

Dear Pat,

Our daughter thinks she should be able to stay out late, go places after school without telling us, watch R-rated movies, and even date! We weren’t doing those things when we were nine years old! How can we rein her in?

Parents of a Renegade

Dear Parents,

I can understand your concern. Probably, when you were her age, you made some bad choices about friends, dating, what movies to watch, and where you went after school. However, your daughter may not be as wild as you were, so cut her some slack. Invite her to bring her boyfriends home to meet you, and suggest that she look for some legal employment. Maybe she is ready for more responsibility than you realize.

Dear Pat,

My wife and I can never agree on how to spend our vacation. I like to drive straight to my cousin Jimmy’s, where I can go fishing and I’m sure there are other things for my wife and kids to do. But they want to stop in every state along the way, and we always end up arguing about this.

Straight Shot

Dear Shot,

I think the key word in your question is “spend.” Women like to shop while on vacation, and your kids will probably be happier if they get some extra allowance to use on the trip. While driving to Jimmy’s, why not encourage your wife to buy the gas when you stop to fill up? And maybe give the kids a few quarters to get snacks from the vending machines at the gas station. I’m sure this is a compromise everybody could be happy with.

* Elin Gursky invented the phrase “family and/or loved ones.”

Steve Dunham lives with family and/or loved ones.

Pat Answers Commuters

By Steve Dunham

This column appeared in the Fredericksburg, VA, Free Lance–Star on Oct. 7, 2007, and is reproduced with permission.

Dear Pat,

My train broke down and the railroad told me to “seek alternate transportation.” I don’t have a car, and I was afraid to hitchhike. The only alternate transportation I could find was, fortunately, a freight train going the same direction. But the railroad police threw me off. Even though I had validated my ticket, I still got a summons to appear in court! Is “catch a train” really “Catch 22”?

Novice Hobo

Dear Hobo,

I can see that you are making an honest effort to read between the lines. However, you still need some lessons in communication. You need to become an “active listener.” When someone asks how you’re doing, I hope you do not start whining about your difficult commute. What the person is really trying to say is “I do not have time to talk to you right now.”

When the railroad says, “Seek alternate transportation,” it does not mean “Try a different train.” It means “You need to leave now.” If you listen to what people are really saying, you will not get into so much trouble. For example, if your boss says, “So you didn’t feel like showing up until eleven today?” it really means “You’re fired.”

Dear Pat,

The police said I should get out of the way of aggressive drivers. But when I pulled off the road, I couldn’t get back on because the traffic was moving so fast. I gave up and walked the rest of the way to work, but I was two hours late, and the boss said I’d get fired if I was late again.


Dear Yielding,

Your problem is that you are in too much of a hurry. You need to leave home early enough so that you can get to work on time without being in a big rush.

Dear Pat,

On Bike to Work Day, instead of driving, I rode my bicycle into town over the park trail. But when it was time to go home, the park was closed, and I had to ride on a busy highway in the dark. How can I be “green” and ride my bike to work if I can’t take the bike trail to get home?

Green and Purple and Blue

Dear Bruised,

You need to learn that your rights end at the tip of your nose. Being “green” is not supposed to interfere with driving, so please keep your bicycle off the road. If you want to be a responsible citizen, you should look into “flex time.” Ask your boss if you could work only six hours a day so that you can leave before sundown. Under the popular 7/40 schedule, you could work only four hours on Sunday and six hours all the other days. I admire your efforts to be “green,” but if you are serious about it, you really need to put your “thinking cap” on!

Dear Pat,

Commuting is a grind. The trains break down. There’s almost no safe place to walk or bike. The highways are nothing but tax-subsidized playgrounds for bullies behind the wheel. I joined a vanpool but the boss gets mad when I tell him I can’t stay late. I tried to find a job locally but I can’t support my family on $7.50 an hour.


Dear Grumps,

Did I ask, “How are you doing?” I did not. So as my fellow advice columnists like to say, listen up, Buster. Life is tough. Get used to it and stop whining. And, if you can read between the lines, my advice to you is “Seek alternate transportation.”

Pat is a commuter who knows that life is tough.

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