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Letter from America. 

O'Donnell Irish EyesO'Donnell Irish EyesFor all I know, this has been going on since Miley Cyrus twerked her way out of her mama’s birth canal, but the new-to-me trend on Facebook begins with an assignment of a random number from one to 25 (or thereabouts) to a poster’s friends.  Upon receipt of a number, a friend is obliged to write a corresponding number of items about him- or herself—facts not known to anyone else, or to which only a very few are privy.  “I love to wash dishes by hand,” and “I am allergic to olives”—even, “I was the most popular kid in the sixth grade but by my senior year in high school I was president and only member of the Milli Vanilli fan club; ‘nuff said?”—are typical responses.  Some Facebook members who participate in this craze, however, are in their responses far more introspective, personal, creative, and/or flat-out full of malarkey.  Some lists include a few heartbreaking statements.  Other lists comprise an item or two that elicit gales of laughter.

I don’t know where he got his comedic gene, but my older son’sentire list cracks me up.  Number 11 on Drew O’Donnell’s list states the following:  “When I was in fifth grade, my life took a peculiar Faustian twist when I sold my soul to the Devil for a Turbo Grafix 16. The Devil’s terms were simple: I had to sacrifice three of my five senses for the coveted game console. I chose to keep my sight and hearing so that I could fully enjoy my videogames. To this day, I am satisfied with the deal. Although I do have trouble knowing when the cat’s litter box needs changing, on the bright side, I neither feel the tears rolling down my cheeks nor taste their bitter saltiness when I run out of ‘continues’ while playing ‘Bonk’s Adventure.”

Early on in the reading of his list, you’ll discover that Drew has, in recent years, “amassed a very impressive collection of toenail clippings. I proudly display them in zip-lock bags taped to the walls of my living room.”

Tell me you’re not chuckling already; I dare you!

On the subject of comedy genes, Libbi Manley Murray, who is one of the wittiest women I have ever known, admits this in her list:  “I wish I had tried to be a stand-up comedian when I was younger.”  Libbi, you heard it here first:  It’s never too late to realize a dream, especially in your case.  You have now a wealth of material that was unavailable to you in your youth.  I’m of the opinion that you’d be an even more successful stand-up comedian now than you might have been at the age of 25, so go for it.  If there isn’t a comedy club in your neck of the woods, start one!

The list written by Regina Coleman Kampa, another woman who missed her calling as a stand-up comic, contained items that were surely a surprise to some of her friends.  I would recognize her singing voice anywhere, as she invariably greets me (whether telephonically or in person) with a rousing rendition of “Cara Mia,” but I never would have guessed that she studied the piano for many years, and for almost as many years was a student in a local ballet school.  Her love of crochet was not quite as shocking to some; however, the fact that she crochets as a relaxation technique must have shattered in her friends a few misconceptions about her, because she never appears anything but unruffled.

Some lists are bloated with boasts.  Here’s a fine example:  “I learned the Heimlich maneuver from Heimlich himself.”  Well, my, my, my, Anne-Marie Cottone!  Aren’t you proud of yourself!  Get over it!  I suppose you’ll tell us next that Mark Spitz taught you how to swim.  Or that you and Mother Teresa used to go bar-hopping together, but you showed her the error of her ways and she ended up on the fast track to canonization!

“I’m proud to say that I pay cash on the barrelhead for every purchase I make!” brags Mitchell Purdy “Strumph” Strumphenhoffel, Jr.* in his list.  That wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact (recently revealed by you) that you have applied for every credit card known to man but have been declined by all of them, would it, Strumph?  On a wholly separate subject, though, we are relieved to learn that since your adoption of a gluten-free diet, your “flatulence has abated considerably.”  Remind me to let you know when the old gang is getting together next.  We’ve missed your company at the last few dozen parties.  Oh, you say you haven’t been invited to a party since the Nixon presidency?  Must have been an oversight.

One friend, to whom I assigned the number three (simply because I was sure she had no more than one “secret” that she hasn’t already shared with others), is a master of the obvious.  “I dye my hair,” Elizabeth “Bitsy” Brannigan Boothby* informed us as her Item #2.  Oh, do tell, Bitsy!  We never would have guessed.  Who would have thought that you weren’t born with those lavender locks, so chunkily highlighted in playful shades of magenta and plum? (Note to self:  Check list of friends on Facebook after this piece appears in print.  Chances are good that I’ll have been summarily “unfriended” by Bitsy.  Who’d blame her?)

Defeated Tennessee’s elusive Lori Hugh is without question not a gal who is particularly fond of making lists—not to mention employing proper spelling and punctuation—but, over the course of our Facebook acquaintance, she has provided me and the rest of her followers with a plethora of little-known factoids about herself.  “Well, today ima go’n to the Corbin Bernsen retrospective at the Defeated, Tennessee’s movie theater? Ima sneak in some Little Debbies underneath my flesh folds. shh!”  Now, just in case that isn’t enough to let us know that Lori has a thing for movies and Little Debbie snack foods, what follows proves it:  “Well, ‘The Hunger Games?’ Y'all got Little Debbie in the future? Cause if’n ya don't, I don't want any part of it!”  Thank you, Lori.

Many of you might ask yourselves who on God’s green earth would want to share with mere cyberfriends any of the tidbits, real or imagined, mentioned above.  Whose lives are so interesting that others would want to read about the minutiae therein?  Still more of you might wonder who has the time to write and/or read list after list after list of others’ personal frailties, foibles, quirks, and peccadilloes.  In point of fact, the numbers stagger the mind.

Consider this:Drew declared in his own list,“I don’t have time for foolish games! I do, however, take several minutes a day to listen to Jewel’s hit single, ‘Foolish Games.’”We all have a few moments to spare each day for foolish games.  (True, some of us have more time than others have.)  Foolish games refresh and rejuvenate.  But if I want to spend that time reading lists, Drew is one of the millions of list-makers whose composition is actually worth the time it takes to read it.  Some people crochet to relax; I pick up something written by my son, sit down for a while, and relax in the laughter his words inevitably evoke.  Write on, Drewbert; write on!

*Name has been changed at individual’s request.

By Cara Sheridan O’Donnell

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