Advice June 2010

What’s Your Problem?

Graham Roumieu

My boyfriend has figured out how to avoid luggage fees on airlines: he wears most of the clothes he needs for a trip onto the plane. He wears three shirts, three pairs of socks, and—here’s the problem—three pairs of underwear beneath his pants, which are very tight at this point. He flies often, and says he saves a lot of money by doing this. Is he nuts?

S. C., Kansas City, Mo.

Dear S. C.,

No, he is not nuts. His sense of frugality, and fashion, is to be commended. I am fiercely opposed to the hidden (and not-so-hidden) fees imposed on the flying public by desperate and rapacious airlines, so anyone who battles against them deserves praise. His behavior does raise one troubling question: How does he transport his underwear on the flight home? Is he wearing three pairs of dirty shorts at the same time? If so, then you ought to have a heartfelt discussion with him. Should his plane crash, you would not want to risk embarrassment (on top of the death or dismemberment of your boyfriend) when rescue personnel discover his dirty underwear in triplicate.

I’m about to be married. I’ve never worn jewelry, and I’d prefer not to wear a wedding band. But my wife-to-be insists that we both display evidence of our marriage on our fingers. Is there any argument you can think of as to why I should be exempt from this rule? Don’t you think the requirement that all men must wear a wedding band is a creation of the wedding-ring industry?

C. C., Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear C. C.,

The answer to your second question is yes, but so what? You will wear the wedding band. There is no chance that you will not. I’m married to my first wife, but I’m on my third wedding band. I lost the first one on our honeymoon (this is considered a good omen in certain cultures, though not in ours), and I lost the second one at a Jimmy Hoffa rally in Las Vegas (don’t ask). My advice is to get a ring that is exceptionally tight-fitting. You can explain to your fiancée that you’d like it to be extra tight because you want to be reminded constantly of your devotion to her. If she’s not bright, she may believe you.

For 20 years, I’ve been traveling up and down the East Coast because of school, work, and family. Each time I drive, I get depressed about the state of I-95’s rest stops. They are shabby, the bathrooms rarely get cleaned, and the food is always unhealthy and unappealing. Why don’t these rest stops ever get better? Should I give up hope?

J. P., Hamden, Conn.

Dear J. P.,

I tend to take the long view on this subject. The story of America is one of almost constant self-correction and self-improvement. We began our history as a country in which Africans were held as slaves. Today, we have an African American president. A mere 90 years ago, women did not possess the right to vote; now a woman is the speaker of the House. Four decades ago, gays and lesbians were alternately harassed and ignored. Now we are on the cusp of universally recognized gay marriage. We as a nation have defeated Fascism and Communism, and we have invented almost everything useful and worthwhile in the modern age. But it is helpful to be reminded every so often that only God is perfect and that to be human, and even to be American, is to live with limitations and inadequacies. And the dreadful, soul-crushing condition of rest stops along I-95 (especially the one in Delaware) is a reminder that our work as a people is never finished. This, at least, is what comes to mind when I catch my first whiff of Cinnabon at the Molly Pitcher Service Area, conveniently located between Exits 8 and 8A on the New Jersey Turnpike.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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