What’s Your Problem?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

My father recently retired and gave me several high-quality suits that he no longer wears. We are the same size, so that’s not a problem. The problem is the vests. Should I wear the vests, or ditch them? Can one still get away with wearing vests, and do suits that come with vests look odd without the vest?

P. D., Westchester, N.Y.

Dear P. D.,

We here at The Atlantic grapple with all sorts of problems: matters glandular and jugular, animals crepuscular, extractions tonsillar, Mormons tabernacular, the politics of Simón Bolívar, diseases vascular, the arthritis of Renoir, Freddie Mercury in Zanzibar, my lost Wanderjahr, and polishing the samovar. But we don’t know anything about fashion. I suggest you send your question to this address: styleguy@gq.com.

I’m having a fight with my wife over a seemingly stupid issue. We’re having friends over soon for a barbecue, and in planning the menu, I said we should have watermelon for dessert. She objected because some of our guests are African American, and she thought they might take offense. I said it’s not racist to serve watermelon to black people, and she agreed. But she thought that, to avoid making our guests uncomfortable, we should be sensitive to stereotypes. Is she being hyper–politically correct, or is she right that people might think we’re projecting racial stereotypes onto our guests?

H. R., Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear H. R.,

Well, it sounds like we’re in for a very relaxed barbecue. Are you serving existential angst for an appetizer? To borrow from Freud, sometimes a watermelon is just a watermelon. My suggestion, though, is for you to serve cantaloupe, or honeydew, or another member of the melon family, or perhaps a selection of berries, not because watermelon would necessarily offend your guests, but because its presence would destabilize your excessively thoughtful wife. And we’d like her to enjoy the barbecue too.

Yesterday I met a North African man who claims that in 1983 he saw a vision of Christ in his bedroom that lasted three hours. The experience caused him to convert to Christianity from Islam. He is a sane, well-spoken adult who has three children and is successful in his career. What can I do to have my own three-hour vision of Christ?

J. C., New York, N.Y.

Dear J. C.,

The famous mystic and Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin believed that such visions could be reflective of an increasingly unified human consciousness. He thought that intense prayer can bring about altered states that enable us to apprehend deeper spiritual mysteries. You might try that. Alternatively, have you considered ingesting a combination of MDMA and psilocybin (known in the vernacular as Ecstasy and mushrooms)? This practice, which the kids today call “flower flipping” or “hippie flipping,” might work too.


In reference to a previous request for help, from a man having trouble meeting women (May Atlantic), What’s Your Problem received the following letter, via the U.S. Postal Service:

Forgive me if I sound callous, but I can’t work up a lot of sympathy for that guy who complained about the difficulty of meeting women in the Philippines. The solution to his problem is simple. Rather than approach women directly, he needs to work on meeting men, in the hopes that one of them might end up introducing him to his sister. Where I’m at, a more direct approach is customary.

Allen Montgomery, #111632
Indiana Department of Corrections Pendleton, Ind.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/09/whats-your-problem/307615/