Peggy Sugar, Millburn, N.J.: Why do we yawn?

A: Most of the research to date is inconclusive. I doubt there’ll be a whole lot more research on yawning in the near future as scientists’ plates must be pretty full with AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, etc. If I were a scientist, I’d feel real silly clocking in every day at the yawning lab while my peers were discovering protease inhibitors.

Most people (including my foster daughter’s nurse) say we yawn due to lack of oxygen. I have another theory: I was once staying with a friend who had some concerns that her boyfriend was fooling around on her. One night she asked me to listen to a message he’d left on her machine. He said, “Hi, hon [yawn]. Listen, I’m beat [yawn]. I’m gonna go [yawn] right to bed tonight, so don’t call, OK? [extended yawn] Whew, I’m tired [yawn]. Goodnight. Don’t call, OK? [yawn]”

So I believe that yawning is brought on by thinking your mate is an idiot. If you can corroborate this data, I’ll include your name below mine in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Tom Grimes, e-mail: If 7-Elevens are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why are there locks on the doors?

A: I went to a 7-Eleven to ask your question and I couldn’t. The employees looked so beleaguered. Twenty-four-hour stores get robbed a lot. In the rare 7-Eleven that hasn’t been robbed, the employees live in fear waiting for their turn. If I’d asked them why they had locks on the doors, surely they’d have thought I was staking the place out.

But I did find a customer service line. The woman who answered the phone said they get this question every day. She also kept calling me “sir.”

I tried to indicate my gender. “I was browsing in your beauty-supply section the other night and couldn’t help wondering why you have door locks if you’re a 24-hour store,” I asked with a lilt to my voice.

“Thank you for calling, sir,” she answered. “Well-groomed men like yourself often call to ask that.” She went on to say they are required by law to be able to secure their store in the event of a national disaster. I can’t imagine the national disaster that could be borne more easily by locking all of the 7-Elevens, but there’s bound to be something so horrible that could befall us that we’d be better off if we kept away from motor oil and Fiddle Faddle.

Marisa Steinas, e-mail: I am a student at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania and am enrolled in humor class. For our final presentation, we have to talk about our favorite comedian. I would appreciate any information about you to help me get an A.

A: I get many letters from people whose lives hang in the balance awaiting my e-mail reply. They need help with school, they want me to write friends on their birthdays, they need a blood transfusion.

I don’t own a computer and you did not include an old-fashioned mailing address. My e-mail gets printed out at Mother Jones, where people know how to do that sort of thing, and then it gets mailed to me via the good old U.S. Postal Service.

I’d like to help, but there’s no way I’m getting a computer. I don’t do well with electronics. I just paid hundreds to have the TV repaired. My cats peed in it.

Write Paula c/o Mother Jones, 731 Market Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103. Fax her at (415) 665-6696, or send e-mail to paula@motherjones.com

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