What's Your Problem?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Last month, I asked for guidance about how to bring to an end the advice column I write for a major American magazine. Your counsel was not helpful. The editors responded to my request by chaining me to a radiator in the basement of our office building. Then they threatened to kill my dog if I didn’t keep writing. I don’t have a dog, but I fear they will shoot my future dog. These are vengeful people. Please help me before it’s too late.

J.G., Washington, D.C.

Dear J.G.,
Are you chained by the wrist, or by the leg? Do you have access to any sort of cutting device? If you are chained by the leg, escape will be more difficult because you will have to cut through large bone—but if you are being held only by the wrist, or even the upper arm, you might be able to saw through fairly efficiently. (If you are in a position to download 127 Hours, starring James Franco, it will provide you with some helpful tips.) An alternative to surgery is to convince your captors, using your wit and charm, that your column is not needed. Perhaps you should suggest they hire someone to write a column on the challenges women face balancing work and family. Your editors might object: Does the world need yet another women’s magazine? Your answer, of course, should be “Yes, it does.”

My neighbors have an enormous tree whose branches hang over our house. We’ve had a lot of storms lately, and some branches have come down, including one that flattened our car. We want our neighbors to trim the branches that still hang over our property, but they won’t do it. They are great neighbors—they are French and fabulous, and even during the latest long blackout, they looked perfect. The situation is becoming awkward. What should we do about the tree? What recourse do we have, without hurting relations?

J.B., Falls Church, Va.

Dear J.B.,
It is true that one of the reasons Americans resent the French is that they look consistently fabulous, even in periods of distress, such as the German occupation of their country from 1940 until 1944. Have you seen photographs from that period? These are very stylish people, and I’m not even talking about Vichy collaborators, but actual oppressed French people. I’ve always wondered how it is possible that the French can always seem so put-together. Maybe it is a specific sort of hair-care product that doesn’t require water—although if the French were in possession of such a product, they would undoubtedly be selling it to us now at a terrific markup. Or perhaps it’s the scarves. I don’t know. But it is completely flummoxing.

About the tree: if the branches hang over your property, you should make the French people cut them down. This is America, after all.

It sounds from your last advice column as though you are giving up this position. If you are still answering questions, can you tell us any of your high points and low points as an advice columnist?

B.P., Cincinnati, Ohio

Dear B.P.,
My high point was answering an imaginary letter from Pope Benedict. Also, the imaginary letters from the Dalai Lama and Saint Thomas Aquinas. The low point was my inability, despite much effort, to work the phrase penis gourd into an answer.

What are some of the problems that people have sent you that you refuse to answer?

O.U., Toronto, Ontario

Dear O.U.,
I believe I have the ability to answer almost any question. However, here are three that have so far defeated me:

1. “Can you recommend interesting sites to see in Canada?”

2. “Why can’t women have it all?”

3. “My husband recently traveled to Papua New Guinea and brought home as a souvenir a penis gourd, and now he insists on wearing it during foreplay. How do I stop this from happening?”

If you really need advice from Jeffrey Goldberg, or if you just miss him, he can be reached at jgoldberg@theatlantic.com.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/whats-your-problem/309073/