Surprise is a central element of horror. The monster that is merely scary emerging from a creepy bog is terrifying when it lunges out of the pink and blue cabinet in the baby’s nursery.

Thus the standard deep intellectual shock and utter moral revulsion that follows exposure to Bob Greene’s mental processes was multiplied this month when he popped up unexpectedly, like an eyeball bobbing to the surface of your tomato soup, in Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column.

Dowd has been slipping herself lately, devoting a Bob-like run of three columns to her snit with Barneys department store. And she hands nearly a quarter of her July 7 column over to her old friend Bob, who she says is “writing a book on the foibles, feelings and fears of turning 50.”

Bob reels off a few one-liners for Dowd about how everybody–and to Bob, “everybody” means people just like him–is aging. “Now you perk up at the dinner table if someone finds out the name of a good podiatrist,” he says, as if he weren’t having all his dinners alone at the Mity Nice Grill.

The Bob-is-nearly-50 book would explain why this month Bob has been a one-man Franklin Mint of nostalgia, cranking up his normal keen for the past until it reaches the full-throated wail of an Iraqi funeral.

Bob praises old magazines one day (“When America was awash in free monthly art,” July 2), gleaning an entire column from a collection of cover art. The next day he rhapsodizes about old cars (“All revved up and putting some life back into summer,” July 31), mocking newfangled inventions like air bags because they apparently sap the romance out of fatal teenage accidents.

Bob’s lazy thinking is permanently sprawled on a ratty sofa, but one column particularly stood out for its limp logic and slumbering premise. In “A little something extra? Don’t count on it” (July 14) Bob offers a wake for the extra cookie or doughnut given away with each dozen at bakeries. “The vast majority of bakeries we surveyed across the United States don’t offer baker’s dozens,” he intones.

Bob doesn’t reveal the numbers of his poll, but readers can’t be blamed if they are left feeling that reports of the death of the baker’s dozen might be a bit premature. Of the five bakeries Bob quotes, four report giving baker’s dozens.

Bob doesn’t let this get in the way of a good cry, however.

“In your mother’s America, a baker’s dozen meant 13,” says Bob, dropping his head back to let loose a bellow of pain. “In America the Downsized, don’t be surprised if a baker’s dozen eventually means 11.”

No free 13th cupcake. Well, at least not at every bakery. Not like in the remembered 50s. Put on the sackcloth. Break the mirrors. Sit in the dust. Beat the chest of sorrow with the clenched fist of pain. America, your country is dying.

Jesus, Bob, just pay for the damn cookie.

–Ed Gold

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration of Bob Greene wearing chef’s hat by Jeff Heller.