There's a guy named Marty, a faithful Enquirer reader, and I think it's fair to say that I'm practically ruining his life. He agrees with me about almost nothing, and he even hates the sound of my voice. (It's too nasal to suit him.)
When I have done something particularly loathsome, he might telephone me five or six times in a single day. Lately, he was bitterly disappointed that I didn't savage Elizabeth Dole when I had the chance.
I would tell you his last name, but of course he doesn't leave it. Nor have I ever spoken to him. He is a voice mail correspondent. When Marty wants to be particularly insulting, he sputters that I am ''small town'' before he hangs up.
Well, this is very frustrating to me. I have no way of getting in touch with this man to thank him.
Small towns, in my opinion, are about the only thing between us and utter chaos. They are the only thing that separates us from people who have surrendered the privilege of being nice to complete strangers. For no reason at all.
For instance, here's something that happened recently in the small town of Blue Ash. Denise Roessler, who lives in Montgomery, lost her camera Sept. 27. That might not seem like such a very big deal to you, Marty, but there were pictures inside of her 3-year-old daughter's first field trip.
And the camera was a birthday gift from her husband, Ronnie.
Mrs. Roessler, struggling with a car seat when she picked up her daughter, stuck the camera on the roof of her Jeep Cherokee. Then she hopped in and began the homely pursuits of a working mom with lots to do and not enough hours to do it in - post office, grocery, doctor's appointment, mostly in Blue Ash.
You knew she was going to forget the camera, didn't you? It happened to me once. It was my purse. Luckily, I glanced in the side mirror and saw it bouncing along the interstate, scattering my possessions along the berm.
My husband screeched to a stop and hopped out. It was raining, so I stayed in the car. Hey, I'm not proud of myself, but his hair is drip-dry and mine is not. He retrieved my purse and, as best he could, its contents.
Again, it was not my finest hour. I complained all the way to Lebanon about the debris he had stuffed into my handbag.
''What made you think I was carrying around a bottle cap?''
''When was the last time you saw me using a 2-inch pencil stub?''
''Is this supposed to be for my gravel collection?''
Dark, rainy, futile
Unfortunately, Ms. Roessler didn't notice when the camera bounced off the top of her car, and she was in the checkout line at Thriftway when she remembered it. She backtracked down Cooper Road. It was starting to get dark, plus it was raining by then. So she did what any reasonable person would do in her position.
Then, she pulled herself together and went to the police stations in Montgomery and Blue Ash to see if it had been turned in. She posted signs. Nothing.
Then a couple of weeks later, a teacher at the preschool called Ms. Roessler to report that somebody had turned in the camera. The somebody was Virginia Swensen, who found the camera along Cooper Road. She had the film inside developed and was able to read the name of the preschool on the name tags of a couple of the kids in the pictures.
Of course, she returned the camera. And the photos. Of course. That's what people do in small towns. This kind of thing happens all the time in places like Blue Ash and Cheviot and Hyde Park and Covington. It's really no big deal.
So, Marty, I'd just like to thank you for your continued interest. I'm sorry to tell you that short of having my adenoids removed, I'm probably stuck with the nasal voice. And you must like it just a little bit. Otherwise, you wouldn't call so often.
Also, it's only fair to let you know that I wrote this story today for the express purpose of driving you completely around the bend. Or at least to another city, maybe a great big one filled with people just like you.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.