Gene Weingarten is on vacation. This column was published Nov. 10, 2002.
WASHINGTON — Today's first runnerup in the category of Distinguished Ultra-Male Behavior goes to Bernie Crane of Fairfax, Va. I became aware of Mr. Crane's great male achievement via an e-mail sent to me and others by Mr. Crane himself, under the subject line "GREAT MALE ACHIEVEMENT!!!"
I almost erased this e-mail unread because, in my experience, most unsolicited e-mails with subject lines like "GREAT MALE ACHIEVEMENT!!!" involve opportunities for personal growth, if you catch my drift. But this was legit.
I read the e-mail explaining the achievement, then opened the attachment, which was a photo of the achievement. Then I phoned Bernie.
Bernie, please tell the readers how you earned your coveted first runnerup status.
"I parallel-parked my car in a space so tight that when I was done the bumpers of my car were touching the bumpers of cars in front and behind. People who were watching applauded."
When I expressed some skepticism, observing not only that such an act seemed geometrically impossible but that such an arrangement of parked cars could be easily ginned up for a photo, Bernie:
1. Indignantly informed me that as a lawyer and officer of the court, he is incapable of lying.
2. Fired off eight more photos he took at the scene, extreme closeups of the kissing bumpers.
3. Disclosed his secret, which involved "just the slightest bit of nudging forward and rolling back," none of which, he emphasized, was violent enough to constitute an actionable assault upon the property of others.
4. Offered to take a polygraph.
Bernie explained that it took him about six minutes — and 15 or 16 back-and-forth maneuvers — to get his minivan into the spot.
The sweetest part, he said, was that some guy in a little sports car sat there smugly waiting for the spot, certain that Bernie would fail. "After a while, he just gave up and left. That was a great moment."
Thus, the First Runner-Up: Bernie the Attorney, Potentate of Parallel Parking.
However, the grand-prize winner for Distinguished Ultra-Male Behavior is Seth Brown of Massachusetts.
Seth is a freelance writer, looking for work. His roommate Tom is an artist, looking for work. The two guys don't see much of their third roommate, Mandy, so they pretty much are in charge of their own upkeep, which suits them just fine. It's not as though guys can't fend for themselves.
Seth has taken over the cooking chores, and for months he and Tom have eaten splendidly, without female accompaniment or advice.
What do you guys eat?
"Potatoes. Fried, sometimes baked. Salt, vinegar. We've got a dish called Smoky Cowboy Rice and Beans. And burritos. I fry burritos with beans and rice and whatever else is on hand. Beef. Baba ghanouj. You know."
The two guys were doing great, until something happened. Can you tell the readers what happened, Seth?
"We got scurvy."
The guys didn't like fruits and veggies, so the guys didn't eat fruits and veggies. One day, Tom's mom and dad came for dinner, noticed this dietary omission, and jokingly mentioned the peril of contracting the obscure deficiency disease most famously seen among filthy 18th century sailors. At this point, Tom and Seth revealed to the parents — and to each other — that they'd been noticing mouth sores, swollen gums, loose teeth, etc.
So they started eating oranges provided by … Mandy. Cured them in a week.
Seth, you win first prize. You have a choice between two books. One is Webster's New World Dictionary. The other is How to Good-Bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? Or Effective Way?
"The second one."
As if there was any question.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.