Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.
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On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.
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Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death," co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs," with photographer Michael S. Williamson.
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Howdy, update readers.
When I embark on a big magazine story that focuses on one particular person, I always sit down with the subject ahead of time and tell him or her this: If I screw this story up, you'll most likely absolutely love it; less likely, you'll absolutely hate it. But your feelings will be uncomplicated. But if I do the best job I can on it -- if I write it to my satisfaction -- you will know some ambiguity. You'll feel three things: First, you will feel feel it is fair. Second, you will like and be proud of about three-quarters of it. And third, one quarter of it will make you really uncomfortable.
Well, that is exactly how I feel about Tom Bartlett's profile of me in this month's Washingtonian Magazine so I think he did well.
A few readers have asked me if the opening anecdote was as promiscuously cruel of me as it seems. The answer is ... maybe. You need a little more context to judge for yourself.
So I will set the scene for you in greater context than the article had room for.
Dad is in car with son Dan, 8, and Dan's big sister Molly, who was 11. Mom is not in the car. (Having a great deal more sensitivity, Mom pretty clearly would have been a leavening, clarifying influence.)
Molly: Put your seatbelt on, Dad!
Dan: Yeah, put your seatbelt on!
Molly: You always make us put our seatbelts on!
Dan: Yeah! What she said, Da-aaaad!
Molly: WHY ISN'T YOUR SEATBELT ON, DAA-AAAAAD?
This nagging was conducted in that familiar preadolescent whine, the way only little kids can do. They were trying to get the old goat's goat. Now, the truth is, I sometimes forgot to put my seatbelt on -- this was the era before cars compelled you to buckle up -- and the kids were absolutely right. But they were also my kids, and no way was I going to cede to them the moral imperative here. Keeping my seat belt off, I adopted an aggrieved tone of injured dignity, I dolefully explained that though I knew it was the right thing to do, I could never buckle my belt because of my deceased older sister, who backed her car into a swimming pool and died because she could not free herself from its restraints. Never before had either child heard anything about a sister of mine, inasmuch as I never had one. I said this with exaggerated gravitas.
Molly just rolled her eyes; she was old enough to get that Dad was being a jackass, and why. She got the subtext. The story had so little impact on her that she does not remember it to this day. And I assumed the same would be true of Dan. But the poor little guy was apparently just a bit young to understand dark, marginally sick satire. Who knew? What's interesting, and awful, is that he said nothing -- just gulped it down and filed it away in the sort of anguish-scarred, never-to-be-talked about scary places of the psyche, such as happens famously to kids who walk in on The Primal Scene. Dan never even discussed it with his sister. I'd like to think he forgot about it, but, noooo, it stayed there, uncomfortably, and we know that because of a conversation the family had at least a decade later. I mentioned how Dan was privileged, in that neither his mom or I had ever known how cool it is to have a sister. And when he called me on this....
And yes, I felt terrible. Still do, a little. Most parents who scar a kid don't do it ON PURPOSE, sort of.
Take today's instapoll.
Gene Weingarten: After the last chat, devoted in large measure to issues of sexual harassment, Pat the Perfect reminded me of some small foofaraw I got into after I first arrived at the Post in 1990. I had been a high profile editor at The Miami Herald, and my hiring at The Post Style section created some controversy, with attendant tension. It was widely assumed I had been hired as heir apparent to Style editor Mary Hadar -- which was basically true, until my managerial downsides began to be apparent. As in any institution where the status quo was threatened by an Outside Force, people were a bit nervous.
Deciding to establish myself as a good guy, I chose to accomplish this by the strategic use of (cue Jaws theme) aggressive humor. These were the pre-internet days, meaning there were not yet online anagrammers, and as it happens, I was a wizard at this art. (Dave Barry would later include my skill in his book Dave Barry in Cyberspace, where he put me up against a computer, in a John Henry like, man v. machine test. I contend I won. Dave disagrees with this. He didn't understand the genius of a neolojism I had created, one no computer could have come up with, to wit, "Wilt-gasm," meaning a Wilt Chamberlain orgasm.) But I digress.
So, anyway, I decided to entertain the Style section by finding anagrams for the names of all the people I worked with. Even though much of humor, and many anagrams, are somewhat risque and hostile, I figured I had "cover" in the sense that one does not INVENT anagrams, one FINDS anagrams. One is not an anagram auteur so much as a channeler. See?
Well, it turns out, neither did some of the people at Style!
My first effort, as I recall, was with Pat the Perfect. These were the days before she became Pat the Perfect, so she was known by her ordinary maiden name of "Pat Myers," which I immediately anagrammed into "spry meat," and sent to her. She laughed! I was home free! I thought! Especially after I followed "spry meat" with "Teary PMS." Still charmed! Still no problem!
So I was emboldened. That is where I made my mistake, failing to understand the Pat the Perfect was, you know, perfect in all ways, including thickskinnedness.
When I informed Tom Shales that his name anagrammed to "stole hams," he was not pleased. He thought it a comment on avoirdupois, which it wasn't. I was only the channeler.
Then there was Rita Kempley, the fine film critic. When I arranged her anagram, I got worried. I liked Rita a lot, but didn't know her all that well. I emailed her to say I had an anagram, but that it was a teensy bit disgusting. She laughed, said fire away. I did. It was "A milky peter."
"EWWWWWW THAT'S REVOLTING," she wrote back, which was the first moment it occurred to me that, you know, I might be stepping in it, as it were. Some minutes passed in terror before discovering that Rita was okay with this. Or at least was not going to march to Human Resources.
Yes, I misspelled neologism.
Regarding the issue of short women and sexual harassment, I received this from a woman I know who asks to remain anonymous because she doesn't want her mom reading this:
I am, by any standard, really short. Like, inches under 5’ short. So I’ve been subjected to every stupid and mean comment you can imagine. I have a set of handy snarky rejoinders that I use for the most frequent occasions.
Stranger: Wow. You’re so short. How tall are you? Me: I can’t discuss it. I’m in a lawsuit against the government for building the ground so close to my ass.
So I’m not easily offended. However, on occasion, men (strangers) have told me that, for a sexual encounter, they like to pretend someone of my height is really a child. YUK.
Another variant is men wondering aloud about the unique physical gymnastics required to perform certain sexual acts with someone my height, and my interest in demonstrating. Someone who hasn’t been in that situation really can’t imagine how completely disgusting it is.
I’m not quick to give Herman Cain a pass about the “same height as my wife” comment. Just saying.
Finally, I realize I never gave you my answer for one of the poll questions. This one:
A supervisor gets a letter from the wife of an employee who is in the middle of a fractious divorce. The wife writes that she wants the supervisor to know just how this employee thinks of his colleagues. Enclosed is a transcript of an IM conversation she has printed out between her husband (Mr. A) and another male coworker (Mr. B). It is almost certainly real. It’s between the two men’s private email addresses, and the time-stamp shows it happened home-to-home, after business hours. It is a lurid, utterly inappropriate, blatantly sexist back-and-forth assessment of the physical attributes of several female coworkers, who are named. Specific desires are enumerated, in impolite language. Reasonable people would find this disgusting.
I was surprised that so many of you -- a small but not inconsiderable number -- felt this was an action meriting some punishment. How thought police-y of you! This was a completely private conversation held between two people who had every expectation of keeping it private. There was no recklessness involved at all. Do men in the workplace comment among themselves about women in the workplace? Only about 97 percent of them. Is this sexist? One hundred percent of the time. Does it mean they are bad employes, threatening the workplace environment at any time? Nope. What's in the brain stays in the brain. Is the boss entitled to like the guys less, after having read this? Sure. And depending on just how disgusting the conversation was, he might. But that's it -- what happens in his brain stays in his brain. Lecturing the guys would seem prim and prudish and ridiculous.
My only question was whether the boss should tell the husband his wife was doing this. I initially thought yes, but The Rib persuaded me that was wrong. "Then you're putting yourself into the marital situation, taking sides," she said. So, my answer is the first one: Do absolutely nothing.
Okay, that's it. See you next week in the updates. Please file questions for the next chat -- held just after the first of the year -- here.