Marty has a cold.
My most dedicated critic dragged himself from his sickbed to make one of his early-morning calls. He would rather not speak to me when I have the opportunity to talk back. He likes to register his opinion then hang up.
His opinion is that I am worthless and misguided. He also thinks I have a ''nasally'' voice and a ''know-it-all smirk.'' (The nasal voice runs in the family. I developed the smirk after years of practice.)
''Thanks for doing another one of your goody-goody stories. I've been sick, and they always put me right to sleep.'' He sneezed into the receiver and hung up.
A narcotic effect
Incidentally, I am often asked if I have invented this man. He is real. I would have invented someone who thinks I am brilliant and witty.
The column which had such a narcotic effect on Marty was about the senior class at McAuley High School. It was just the kind of story I love and Marty hates. The girls raised money for an airline ticket for teacher Sue Ward, who otherwise would have missed the funeral of her favorite aunt.
They did it quietly and in cahoots with the school faculty and Sue's family.
Dave Otten of Blue Ash thinks that those kids ''are a great story and there probably are other stories like this if you would look.'' I'm looking, Dave, all the time. Thanks for calling. You came right after Marty's sneeze.
Thanks, too, to all of you who sent coupons for White Castle hamburgers after I confessed that I am among those who suffer secret cravings for the steamy little belly bombers.
I also appreciate the many personal stories. Note to DB of Anderson Township: When you say that White Castles made you sick in college, are you remembering the 10 beers you had before you ate one?
Linda Kocis of Borders Books in Springdale reports that the store was crowded last Sunday with slider fans who bought Heidelberg College Professor David Gerard Hogan's book, Selling 'em by the Sack, then sampled the real thing.
''Things are back to normal,'' she says. ''We don't even smell like onions anymore.''
Apparently I was on some kind of middle-age nostalgia jag, because right after the White Castle column, I found myself looking at the new Volkswagen Beetle. The 1998 Bug, introduced at the Detroit auto show, really is the ultimate Baby Boomer retro car - everything we remember fondly, minus the rust, the noise, the shimmy and the heater that didn't work.
Two gentlemen telephoned to remind me that the car was developed by Adolf Hitler. One man said, ''Hitler actually did a lot of things that he never gets credit for.''
Heaven forbid that I not give Hitler every bit of attention he is due. So, for the record, the original Volkswagen Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porsche and developed by the murderous lunatic Adolf Hitler shortly before he ''developed'' Dachau.
And I suppose I should be grateful. In my comfortable, middle-aged, middle-class world, it would be easy to forget about people to whom hatred is a badge of honor. A habit.
''We have made progress,'' says Gwen Gordon, who called after a Martin Luther King Jr. Day column. ''But we still have a lot to do.'' The Madisonville woman wasn't talking about Nazi Germany. She was talking about right here. Right now.
As if to prove her point, Marty telephoned again - about Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
''Integration is never going to happen just because you airhead liberals want it. You will never convince the bulk of whites to celebrate this day.''
He used the N-word two or three times, just to show me.
Quick, Marty, get back in bed. I'm serious. You are a very sick man.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.