Ask Dr. Tim Coats

He's Real Smart

Q: I grew up very good-looking. Hence, I never needed to develop other means of endearing myself to people. A natural consequence of this, as I've gotten older, is I have to spend a lot of time in front of the mirror making sure my single asset (my looks) is in working order. For this, I get criticism from the less good-looking who have, of course, developed other means of endearing themselves. They'd love to get us good-looking people away from the mirror altogether, to disarm us and knock us out of the competition.

A: Who says beauty and brains don't mix? In any case, they'd better--rumor has it that an all-out assault like never before is about to be waged on beauty. Next we have a letter from someone who might not realize this.

Q:I'm not very strong in the looks department. Do you think they'll ever invent realistic masks that will help people along these lines--say something comparable to hairpieces? Even if they did, I guess it wouldn't be in my lifetime, huh?

A: Actually, such masks were considered for development and then discarded when the developers realized a potentially disastrous consequence: people of great beauty would buy plain-looking masks, develop the compensatory sterling qualities that plain-looking people develop, whisk off the masks--and have it all!

Q: I'm often criticized for being very sympathetic toward the rich people I know and their problems. But isn't this better than not being sympathetic at all?

A: We don't have the answer to this yet, but it's been one of our pet projects recently, along with its cousin quandary: you'll be criticized for being fair if you're only fair to the wrong people.

Q: I'd like to collect pennies, clip coupons, save aluminum cans, etc., but I fear being labeled cheap.

A: The important thing here isn't so much which way you decide to go as it is to do it quickly and get on to the more romantic dilemmas.

Q: What gets me is when I know something and then later everybody knows it -- somehow I think I should get credit for knowing it before.

A: This is a toughie. It has recently been identified as the real theme of many ancient literary works. We have, however, come up with a solution: the secret is to adopt the quiet, knowing style of personality (a squint helps tremendously, but the full smile is a definite no-no). The idea here, if you haven't already guessed, is to create the illusion of knowing things. If you are successful, you will get full credit for knowing not only what you did know before anybody else, but also for what you didn't! (We still haven't ironed out a way, though, to satisfy the natural desire for getting even fuller credit when you do know something without blowing the whole front.)

Q:I never get romantic because I'm always afraid it'll cost me a few bucks. I suppose if I was richer, I wouldn't have this problem.

A: The writer states a well-known truth (and these can't be stated too often!). What's interesting is that even in light of this truth, the poor somehow manage to get a lot more babies than the rich.

Q: A piece of advice for young up-and-comers: don't develop the big happy-go-lucky smile unless you have the personality to back it up. Years of expensive therapy taught me that it has been at the root of my difficulties.

A: If we might be permitted an opposing voice: that smile may also have been at the root of the success that allowed the letter writer to afford the therapy. It's too easy to overlook the bright side.

Q: One of the troubles with being highly educated is that if there's nothing else on TV, and I'll have to watch the news, I'll really understand what a mess the world's in.

A: Ah, yes. What has a lot of big-wigs scratching their heads is how this problem can continue to arise even with all the channels there are now. It'll have to be solved soon, though, because more and more are becoming highly educated. And they are the people who will do something about the world's mess if they're provoked enough.

Q:What do you people think of the passive voice? I love it so much!

A: We're going to deal with this question later in our special literary issue, along with letters from people such as the one who loves more than anything to come across the word "arch" when reading and whose favorite author consequently is Henry James.

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