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Let’s pretend, Gentle Reader (as Miss Manners might say), that your favorite advice columnist me, Pierre, received a letter from an LA Progressive reader who wrote something like:

Dear Pierre,

Help me if you can. Raccoons are coming in the cat door and leaving muddy paw prints everywhere after they raid my kitty’s kibble dish. They look plenty cute, but I understand they can be vicious if cornered (probably as is the case with readers of your column).

How can I keep them out of the house without locking my kitty inside or out?

Signed,

Stymied in Sylmar

Dear Stymied,

Fear not. Pierre has the answer!

Allow me, Gentle Reader, to tell you a talk radio story. (Were this a typical American talk radio show, I would not be so polite. Instead of saying, “Allow me…” I would bellow, “Listen to me! This is important! I know what I’m talking about!”) But now back to our regular programming.

This is a true story. Come with me to a little village on the northern California coast where I once lived, Bodega Bay. You may well know it as the locale where the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “The Birds” was set. Soon as the picture begins, the character played by Tippi Hedren meets the one played by Suzanne Pleshette. Pleshette offers Hedren a cigarette and greets her with one of my favorite lines from the film, “There’s a lot of spare time in Bodega Bay.”

Of course, that’s not true in the movie and it wasn’t true at my house. Our family cat, Schrödinger, lived an outdoor life – free to come and go as he pleased through the cat door downstairs.

But – as we soon learned – Schrödinger wasn’t the only guy using his door. A family of raccoons was traipsing through the door and blazing a path upstairs to his cat food dish. They scarfed his food, making a mess on the kitchen floor, and then tracked that mess back downstairs to his cat door. There they made their sloppy exit to the great outdoors.

What to do about this invasion, this continuing infestation, this mess? We wondered, as do you, Stymied.

A few clicks of research taught me that raccoons tend to shy from human voices. I figured strident human voices would sound most offensive to the critters.

And as readers – gentle and otherwise – may well guess, now comes a talk radio point in my story.

I fixed a portable radio next to the cat door and tuned it to the local station that then broadcast the screaming rants and raves of the late Rush Limbaugh and his fellow demagogic travelers. It worked like magic.

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Schrödinger, well accustomed to our and other human voices, was unconcerned – his comings and goings not bothered by the vitriolic venom escaping from the radio. But the raccoons ran from the angry and dangerous screeching they heard and never returned to our house. Even if they failed to understand the specific hatemongering Limbaugh and his perverse pals were spewing over the airwaves, they fled the talk radio scene.

So, Stymied, should we all. Except for those times when we need to keep the raccoons out of the cat dish.

•••

And let’s pretend that your favorite advice columnist me, Pierre, received a letter from another LA Progressive reader who sought sartorial guidance. Perhaps this:

Dear Pierre,

I feel so comfortable lounging around the house wearing ancient jeans with frayed hems and my favorite torn T-shirt with the faded message: London/Paris/Rome/Bakersfield across the front. Lately I’ve found myself not bothering to change into something at least a little less scuzzy when I leave the house. Here’s my question: Is casual America so casual these days that my comfortable outfit is socially acceptable? Or should I change before making public appearances?

Signed,

Baffled in Bakersfield

Dear Baffled,

You, my friend, are so not alone. We are a nation of slobs. Even as I write this I am sitting at my kitchen table with no shoes on, my jeans are not just frayed, they’re spotted with last night’s dinner and my shirt probably hasn’t felt an iron since Trump lived in the White House, or maybe those Hope and Change days of Obama. But I do dress up – especially for doctors and airplanes – and it makes for radical differences in both how I’m perceived by others and the dynamics of those relationships.

Here’s the deal (from my perspective, of course). As I tell students studying with me in a course that the University of Oregon calls the Journalistic Interview, you can interview a garbage collector while wearing a tuxedo, but you probably cannot get into the governor’s inaugural ball wearing your T-shirt and jeans. The University of Oregon campus, gorgeous as it is (“Animal House” was shot on our campus if you need a ready reference) is populated year after year by an extraordinarily casual cohort of students and faculty. I challenge my students (we’re a public university so assigning their wardrobe probably would not go over well) one day each term to dress up just a touch. Swap the jeans for slacks. Replace the T with a collared shirt. Wipe the Oregon mud off the shoes (and wear “dress” shoes not Nikes even while recognizing the generosity of Phil Knight to his alma mater). The difference in how people will react, interact, speak is palpable. From just a nod to a compliment, the change is notable. Approve of superficiality or don’t – that works to a news reporter’s advantage. And, reporter or not, added respect is a universal response to looking your best.

So, to the specifics of your question, Baffled.

peter laufer banner 2004

Your outfit is, unfortunately, socially acceptable. But consider changing into something smarter and test reactions – from strangers to those closest to you. You may toss those jeans and that old Bakersfield T into the trash.

The other day I suffered a appointment with a new-for-me dentist. After the hour of poking and prodding, as I was leaving the examining room, she said, “It is so nice to see a gentleman in a suit these days.” It’s a plain cut charcoal light wool. Hart Shaffner Marx! Got it on sale at Men’s Wearhouse marked down from $699 to $199! I’ll bet some of you LA Progressive readers spend $199 on your jeans! My cotton shirt was light blue. No tie. Nothing fancy, but elegant. I’m not suggesting my dental care would have suffered were I wearing the jeans and the wrinkled shirt, but there was at least an extra touch of connection because of the suit: me showing respect via clothes to her: she acknowledging that respect with a compliment.

The same is true on airplanes. Most passengers these days look like slobs. If you don’t match them, you may well receive better service than they do, or at least a wide smile.

And especially these days, Baffled, that wide smile may well be much more important than another glass of cheap airline wine.