It would be nice if I could answer every letter and telephone call that I receive, but there are far too many, so I have to pick and choose.
Some contain only orders, directing me where I should go or what I should do to myself. Those don't actually require answers and, since the people who cut out the words and paste them on the page don't usually list return addresses, I can't reply anyhow.
Then there are those, again from unidentified readers, that pose fairly ridiculous scenarios _ the influence of satanic soap companies on the broadcast media, the responsibility of the Trilateralists for the increase in Citrus County property taxes or the relationships between UNICEF Christmas cards having crossless churches on them and the advent of one-world government.
Those frequently end with an ominous line stating, "I will expect to see this addressed in a future column." My response, to myself since I don't know to whom else it should be directed, is "expect away."
But some letters, because of their content, I do choose to answer, although I have to be careful not to be somebody's cost-free research department.
One that I felt compelled to answer was from Marie and Fred Baeder of Port Richey.
I felt compelled to answer it because it came to my desk last week _ although it had been mailed Feb. 9, 1988.
No, this isn't one of those yarns about incredibly slow postal service. The postal service apparently got it delivered to the Times St. Petersburg address in time. But the card apparently got lodged way down in the bottom of one of the large re-usable envelopes that we use to transmit mail and memoranda and other items throughout the Times extensive bureau system.
And there it stayed, riding back and forth between Dade City and New Port Richey and Brooksville and who knows where else, for four years.
I was thrown for a moment, because the card finally arrived during February, and the original had been mailed on Feb. 9, but I didn't recognize the column that the Baeders were asking about until I remembered having written it in late 1987.
The column had been about Pasco County's then-new restaurant rating system and had pointed out that Wife and I had been served insect-contaminated food on two occasions at one restaurant and that friends from the Times had been served hair-contaminated food at another one and that both of them were rated "A." The point being that, if those were "A" rated, I didn't really want to eat at a "B" or a "C."
The column was easy to remember, because it drew an inordinate amount of hate mail, despite that I had not named either restaurant. Most of the mail came from folks who misstated the facts as listed in the column, and then indicated that people with long hair and beards were disgusting and shouldn't be allowed to eat in public _ or to live, for that matter.
The point of the column was to question the effect of the rating system, not to embarrass two restaurants that had difficulties on what could have been (and, in fact, were) isolated incidents.
The Baeders wanted to know which restaurants I was writing about, so they could avoid them. I probably wouldn't have told them, but I probably would have at least responded to their request.
I was able to tell them last week, four years later, that the health department responded immediately to my column and re-inspected both restaurants and that I have heard no further complaints about either of them.
And I hope they understood the four-year delay indicates that I may be slow . . . but I am thorough.