What's Your Problem?

When to invoke the Third Amendment, and other advice

By Jeffrey Goldberg

I live in a place that draws a lot of tourism, and friends often try to impose themselves on us when visiting. How do I deflect these constant requests without hurting any feelings?

P.B., San Francisco, Calif.

Dear P.B.,

I would muster a constitutional argument against such visits. As one of our nation’s foremost scholars of the Third Amendment (motto: “There’s a Third Amendment?”), I can say with unearned surety that the Founders understood that exasperating houseguests would one day be a plague upon the land, especially the land surrounding San Francisco Bay, in particular the Telegraph Hill and Pacific Heights neighborhoods. (Such geniuses were our Founders that they predicted not only the seizure of California from Mexico in 1846, but the rise of price-gouging San Francisco hotels.) As you undoubtedly recall, the Third Amendment, squeezed in between two other, forgettable amendments, states: “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” On the surface, of course, the adoption of the Third Amendment seems to have been spurred by a profound fear of Hessians, who, among other things, refused to pick up after themselves during the occupation of Trenton in the winter of 1776. But an expansive interpretation of the Third Amendment, I believe, provides the justification necessary to refuse quarters to San Francisco–bound freeloaders.

Alternatively, you can tell your friends your house has bedbugs.

What is the difference between eight-grain bread and 14-grain bread?

A.W., Minneapolis, Minn.

Dear A.W.,

Six.

I would like Congress to pass a law prohibiting men from inserting metal into any part of their head, with the exception of medical implements such as steel plates and tooth fillings. Can you recommend a legislator who might sponsor such a bill?

D.P., West Des Moines, Iowa

Dear D.P.,

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC).

Ever since our first child was born, I have slept very poorly. When I close my eyes, my mind becomes crowded with worries. I worry about my kids’ safety, their future, college education, happiness, just about anything you could think of. Is there anything I can do to put my mind at ease?

N.E., Atlanta, Ga.

Dear N.E.,

Alas, no. You are suffering from an incurable disease called parenthood. The birth of a child is the most transcendent moment in a person’s life. It also marks the beginning of what I call “The Great Terror,” in the words of the historian Robert Conquest. (Conquest was referring to Stalin’s ferocious purges of the early 20th century, which were also terrifying, but not significantly more terrifying than hearing your children say they are off to play a game called “trampoline pumpkin-carving.”) To put your mind at ease, I suggest removing from your home all knives, turpentine, No. 2 pencils, bathtubs, medicine, electrical outlets, chairs, peanut butter, and stairs. You should also try to remember that many of the hazards facing our children are overblown: the Crimes Against Children Research Center, for instance, notes that rates of sexual assault, bullying, and other violence against children have declined substantially in recent years, despite media suggestions to the contrary. But statistics be damned; fear is fear. Only death frees you of worry entirely, and the onset of death brings its own anxieties. However, one advantage of death is that your children will no longer torment you with incessant demands for iPads and Ke$ha downloads.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/whats-your-problem/308329/