My most enthusiastic critic, Marty, is back, and he is sincerely ticked off as usual. He has been silent most of the winter, and I can't say that I've missed him, except in the sense that you miss a dog that usually barks at 3 a.m.
It's not that you enjoyed hearing from him. You just wonder where he went.
He was very dependable at the beginning of our relationship. Every time I noticed somebody doing something nice, he would call to remind me that ''not all people are such goody-two-shoes.'' People have been doing nice things all winter, and I've been trying to notice every chance I get, yet Marty has been curiously uncommunicative.
At first, I thought maybe he had moved, because he says he hates ''Podunk towns like Cincinnati.'' So I was sort of hoping he'd made his miserable way to a Bigdunk town, where he could enjoy the sophistication and excitement of stolen hubcaps and people whose answer to everything is ''fuggetaboudit.''
He and I have never had what you might call a real conversation, because although he leaves explicit messages on my voice mail - ''Your column is a big, fat waste of space'' - he never leaves his last name or a phone number.
Over time, however, I think I have gotten a sense of Marty's politics. ''Rush Limbaugh is a genius. A genius.''
And: ''This country would be a lot better off if broads like you would never have gotten the vote.''
I don't know if there's a Mrs. Marty, but if so, she is in my prayers.
The reason for our voice mail reunion is the Mason High School girls basketball team, which came within a few points of the Division I state championship last weekend. Marty called to tell me that they are a big, fat waste of space. And that Title IX is ''just about the worst thing that ever happened to sports.''
Title IX, of course, is the federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination at schools that get federal money. No wonder Marty thinks this is a dangerous notion. And the Mason Comets must be particularly offensive to Marty because not only are they successful athletes, but they are good students and thoroughly nice people.
He'll probably start frothing at the mouth when he finds out the women's Final Four will be played here at the end of this month. He says he would be happy if he never saw another story about women's sports in The Enquirer. Ever.
There can, of course, be only one response to this. Another story about women's sports. Immediately.
Luckily, Dawn Staley, one of the best female athletes in the country, was in town to open a new GTE Wireless store downtown. Think of it. A great, big company hired a female basketball player to bring customers in to the store. And they came, stood in line and asked for autographs. Even grown-up men.
Dawn, 26, says winning the gold at the Olympic games last summer in Atlanta was her lifetime goal. So, since she has a lot of lifetime left, she decided she needed a new goal.
Just 5 feet 6 inches tall, she grew up playing scrappy coed games in inner-city Philadelphia. ''My neighborhood made me the person I am.'' The person she is is just the kind of woman Marty hates. That is, one with a job and opinions and a future. Besides, once a person finds out about teamwork and goals and when to pass the ball and when to run with it, she may get the idea that she could put this to use in other places.
Such as corner offices. (And, Marty, just in case you'd like to really suffer, she's also a certified goody-two-shoes.)
Her new lifetime goal is to help kids. She plays ball for the new American Basketball League's Richmond Rage six months of the year, and works the other six months on a foundation she began for kids in her old neighborhood. Little kids. ''You can't start too soon to let them know that sports can be the way to better things.''
Little girls, right?
''Oh, no,'' she says. ''All kids. Little boys helped me become the person I am, too.''
See, Marty. Maybe we're not as dangerous as you think.
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.