My wife is a planner. She doesn’t like surprises.

At Christmas, she is very specific about what she wants. So she tells me ahead of time what to buy. This is not to say that Mary Ellen is not a spontaneous person. Why, at the drop of a hat, my wife would jump into a cab (that she had arranged a week beforehand), then board a plane (if she had reservations two months ahead of time to get super-saver tickets) and head for some last-minute destination (more like 4,000 minutes, but minutes nonetheless).

Even the hotel would be a spur-of-the-moment decision, once she had researched every Internet site for the best possible deal in the solar system. Yes, that’s how impulsive she is. I can barely keep up with her.

But that being said, I was still taken aback by a question she posed to me recently on our way to a movie—a movie she chose after careful analysis of all the reviews, along with an online purchase of tickets.

“Dick, next year, do you want a surprise party for your 70th birthday?”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, before I waste a lot of time finding a place to have a party, rounding up a few of your friends, and spending a lot on food, I just want to be sure you really want a surprise party. Hypothetically, of course.”

“I know this is really narrow-minded and ungrateful of me, but isn’t a surprise party supposed to be…you know…what’s the word I’m looking for?”

“Well, how soon we forget. Do you remember what you said when I threw a surprise party for your 50th?”

“I seem to recall saying, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have.’”

“That’s exactly right—and I’m not going to make that mistake again.”

“Okay, who would you invite to my surprise party? Once again, hypothetically.”

“Well, to make things easier for me, you could just jot down several names on a piece of paper. And include some folks you wouldn’t expect to come to your party. Maybe even a few people who aren’t really that crazy about you.  If I could convince them to come, that would really make the party a surprise.”

“Is there anything else I shouldn’t know?”

“Well, I don’t want you to know exactly where the party might be, so come up with three places where you wouldn’t expect people to jump out of nowhere, screaming ‘SURPRISE!’”

“Make it easy on yourself, Mary Ellen. Why not just have it at our house, and that way, when I come home from work, everyone can just be hiding in the kitchen.”

“Well, how clever is that?  They’d have to think you were pretty darn stupid to walk into your own home on the day of your 70th birthday with 15 cars parked on our cul de sac and not know something was going on.”

“Okay, then, let’s do it the day after my birthday.”

“Hey, that’s a super idea. I can’t wait. This is going to be an even bigger surprise than you thought.”

“Yes, Mary Ellen, this sounds like a fun party. Hypothetically, of course.”


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I have steadfastly accepted as fact anything preceded by the words “They say….”   They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day; they say you should drink seven glasses of water daily; they say you should wait 30 minutes after eating to go swimming.  Luckily, all of these directives have proven false. But I am most delighted by this latest debunking:


Yes, the United States government just released some new health guidelines leaving out flossing, because there is “no research to back up the claim.”

Damien Walmsley of the British Dental Association concurs:  “It’s always important to tell people the basics, but flossing is not part of the basics.” Walmsley is from Great Britain, where apparently many believe that brushing is not part of the basics, either.

Truth is, flossing has never been very popular.  When a dental research firm did a little digging (ouch!), they uncovered the most common excuses people have given for failure to floss daily. Here are a few of my favorites:


I can relate to this. When I first started flossing, I made the mistake of doing it while looking in the mirror. I had to stop that, because I was punching myself in the nose three or four times a week. Here’s another:


This is a feeble excuse, especially since 35 percent of the people saying it were men.

And this:


Well, he’s not my choice for the next president, but I do think this guy has a good set of choppers.

Skeptics of these new studies maintain that flossing is difficult to research because most people don’t floss correctly. One investigator also noted that in dental research, “People tend to take better care of their teeth when they know they are being observed.” That could get kind of weird. “Mary Ellen, can you come in the bathroom for a minute?  I want you to watch me do something.”

Consumers spend two billion dollars a year on dental floss, which is estimated to be about a half-million yards of the stuff, or enough to go around the earth 20 times.  This may suggest a very dental-hygienically aware planet, but remember that a lot of that half a million yards was used as emergency shoelaces, fishing line and picture hangers. There’s actually a blog called 1001 ways to use dental floss.  It includes lots of clever ideas, but strangling someone or using it for a prison break do not speak to my personal needs. 

A final note: dental floss was invented by Levi Spear Parmly in the early 1800s. His wife thought his idea needed some tweaking, because 14 yards of thread wrapped around a rock didn’t have much sales success at the local general store.  “Look, Levi, instead of your invention, how about making tiny, pointy wooden sticks that you can pick your teeth with? You could call them Spear Picks. Clever, huh?”

“Better let me do the thinking, dear.  And that other idea of yours, making pants out of denim and calling them Levi’s?  I don’t think that will fly, either.”


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