Help! My grandmother looks like a cotton swab

Every issue, readers from all over write in to ask our featured advice columnist pressing questions about a very specialized field. Whether they hope to resolve a dilemma or find a way out of their quandaries and quagmires, they get their answers here.

Today we are proud to feature Tori Langston, a Spokane, Washington, resident specializing in cotton swabs.

Dear Tori,

I’m a little worried about my mother. She used to be a great decorator and have a high appreciation for beautiful floral arrangements in her home. The last time I visited her, however, the centerpiece for her dining room table consisted of a small pot of soil with a cotton swab sticking up out of it. Then I really started to worry when in the middle of dinner, she got up and actually watered it. Am I overreacting, or could it be that her porch light’s on, but nobody’s home?

-Brian Burell
Oak Park, MI

Tori Langston gives a lecture about cotton swabs at Harvard last month.

Tori Langston gives a lecture about cotton swabs at Harvard last month.

Dear Brian,

I don’t know your mother, so she very well could be a few notes short of a symphony, but the centerpiece you described sounds very attractive indeed. Guests are usually impressed with originality, and when I have dinner parties, I am overwhelmed with compliments on my cotton swab soup. And during the Christmas season, my friends gush about my Nativity scene, where the three wise men are bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and cotton swabs.

Dear Tori,

My grandmother looks like a cotton swab. She has this huge head of white hair, a skinny body, and these gargantuan fluffy white slippers she wears around the house. How do I tell her this without hurting her feelings?

-Makenzie McGillivray
Cave Creek, AZ

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Dear Makenzie,

This is a trick I’ve learned over the years for dealing with people who look like cotton swabs. Someday soon, take a picture of a cotton swab. Print it out, then discreetly mix it in with another set of pictures, say, of one of her vacations. Then, one night after dinner, go through the pictures with her, and when you come across the photo of the cotton swab, comment on how good she looks. You can then say, “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s a cotton swab. I thought it was you.” I have never hurt anyone’s feelings using this subtle method, so I am confident it will work for you.

Dear Tori,

I wrote a term paper decrying social injustice and proposing a plan to help people by giving the world a cotton swab. My professor told me that the world’s problems will never be solved with cotton swabs. Please tell me that there is some merit to my argument.

-Julie Patchett
Orland Hills, IL

Your prof is right. The world’s problems cannot be solved with cotton swabs alone. You’ll also need some rubbing alcohol.

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