I love the Toronto Star. I love their crisp, colourful pictures, their wide range of diverting topics, and the fact that their print doesn't come off on my fingers. I do, however, tend to avoid some of the loonier commentators and stick to hard news with a sprinkling of the brilliant Antonia Zerbisias.

But a three-hour train ride and the seductive lure of Camilla in a truly hideous coat (her stylist should be investigated for fraud) led me to a column by the infamously grouchy Rosie DiManno. Now, for those not in the know, Rosie has crafted a long career out of insults, outrage and controversy. Granted, she's had to work harder over the last few years, as her increasingly tiresome routine wears thin.

But the diminished DiManno still plugs gamely along, sniping here and there, dutifully trying to pump her online comments up with reader outrage. Her piece on Camilla and Charles was a pretty half-assed effort at this, with the inevitable focus on poor Diana, nasty infidelities and all the things that were so outrageous back in 1987.

Halfway down, though, Rosie made a puzzling choice in her description of an innocent onlooker, overjoyed at spotting his idols. She characterized this man as a "hermaphrodite-in-waiting," and sneered at how he "cooed" when speaking of the royal couple. She then printed his full name.

Now, I have to admit that sometimes my gut response to these sorts of remarks can be unfairly tainted by ghosts of homophobes past, so I thought I'd best be a tad circumspect in my query to Rosie and her editor. I popped off an email, asking what precisely she meant by this gender-based comment, and expressing my hope that it wasn't a crack on the man's possible effeminacy.

"Take the 2-by-4 out of your arse," Rosie wrote in response. "The guy looked like a male impersonator."

Well that answers that. Haunted by the memory of many in-person sightings, I couldn't help but respond: "Honey, I've seen you in person and trust me, so do you."

Now that might seem pretty mean — and, in fact it was. Additionally, it was sexist, ageist and all sorts of political no-nos that I generally avoid. But it was also quite calculated. I wanted to see if the fuel for Rosie's bigotry was in fact caused by a toxic leak from her own fractured self-esteem. And kablamo! I struck pay dirt.

"Your sexism is showing," wrote Rosie. "Hugs and kisses."

Interesting. I decided to up the ante with my own victim buzz-word. "And your effeminaphobia is outshining your ignorance," I typed back. "It's almost beautiful. Eternally, serafin."

Rosie's response was a little puzzling to me: "What a little man, and I suspect with a little penis," said she. "My sympathies. But you've used up your allotment of my time for wee dicks. I'm afraid this is where we must part."

Huh. Setting aside the irony that my exit from the closet was pretty much predicated on my disinterest in what the fairer sex thought of my genitals, I wondered just how much bait this dainty trout would swallow. Carefully studying her articles and the rabid invectives squatting in my inbox, I sketched out a series of responses mirroring the tone and structure of Rosie's tantrums.

What followed was a thoroughly entertaining hour or so of playacting as I attempted to parry DiManno's thrusts with her own scathing style. Could the lady take what she so gleefully dishes out from behind the safety of her computer screen? Apparently not.

I'm still quite amazed it worked. With each of my responses I was certain that the big R would spot my pedagogical sleight-of-hand, but nope, DiManno kept slinging the phallic insults and dramatic kiss-offs. This gal indulges in more final farewells than Cher on yet another retirement tour.

Finally, I decided to 'fess up. I let go of the charade and spoke about this incidental bystander, undefended and unrepresented, whose appearance, mannerism and full legal name she had held up for ridicule. I pointed out that my missives had been based on her own apparent ground rules for acceptable commentary on one's physical attributes (or shortcomings). I talked about the absurdity of treating others with contempt, and then expressing outrage when our bitter pigeons come home to roost — all the while believing that the lady had finally washed her hands of the conversation and would certainly not respond.

If only. More insults. Another final farewell, that I decided to let lie. I'm still not sure who won our little skirmish, but if this is losing I can't help thinking that I wouldn't still be so damned amused.

>> Read the email exchange between Serafin LaRiviere and Rosie DiManno
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