Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

May 31, 2011

Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. This month, that day was Tuesday, May 31 at Noon ET. 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.

Please take this week's polls:

High-brow poll

Middle-brow poll

Low-brow poll

Recent chats and updates:

Chatological Humor: April 26

Update: May 3

Update: May 10

Update: May 17

Update: May 24

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

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.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

Ed's Note: If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality or use WordPad. I haven't the time to edit them out.

Good afternoon.


The Post Hunt is this Sunday, and, for the first time, we are publishing the instructions in advance.   They are here.


But that is not the only change.


You know how some men at midlife – worried about their mortality and eager to feel young, alive, and virile – will mortgage the house to buy a Maserati, get hairplugs, romance the babysitter, etc.?   Well, this year, for the first time in a quarter century, Dave Barry and Tom Shroder and I have made a few dramatic, risky format changes.  Just to show we’ve still got it, baby. This means that we are even more excited than usual, but also more scared.  We strongly advise you to be there, if for no other reason than to witness what might be a gigantic, but highly entertaining, fiasco.  Also, for the first time, Hunt veterans might not have that much of an advantage.   First-timers, take note.


Speaking of innovation:


On Sunday in this column I heroically dared the readers to improve what I wrote, in what I believe is  journalism’s the first Wikicolumn challenge.   More than 100 aspiring humor writers battled their way through website problems to try their hands, and they offered more than 150 proposed changes.    The majority of these proposals proved what I have always self-servingly contended: Humor is very, very hard to do.   However, nine people proved my column’s central contention:  The Hive Mind is, collectively, genius.  It can improve anything.


So, below, we have my column, as made better by Post readers, and as judged by me.  (Other than a better headline, all of the changes are in the last third of the column.  My deleted language is parenthesized in italics; the new material is in boldface.)   The first-prizewinner, who gets an autographed copy of “The Fiddler in the Subway,” is  Michael Reinemer of Annendale, Va.  Finishing a close second was Howard Walderman of Columbia, Md.

(Headline: Comedy of errors)

New headline: I Give You Hives1

When I was the judge of a weekly newspaper humor contest in the 1990s, part of my job was to give readers an example of a potentially winning entry for each new competition. You might think that I’d be the best person to come up with jokes that would impress the judge, who was me. But I wasn’t. Week after week, the eventual winning entry was better than my example had been.


One week, for instance, the contest was to write a riddle that is answered by a painful pun on someone’s name. My example was:


Q: In the world of nudists, who represents Everyman?


A: John Q. Pubic.


Not bad. But not as good as the reader-submitted winner:


Q: Who wrote The Hatchback of Notre Dame?


A: Victor Yugo.


This was 1996, but I realize now that, even then, long before the advent of Wikipedia, I was seeing a primitive, proto-Internet phenomenon at work. When an audience of thousands descends as one on a challenge, the Hive Mind goes to work and produces something better than the sum of its parts. Good ideas rise to the top like cream — or in the case of my particular tastes in humor — like bubbles in a septic tank.


Basically, I know that every one of my columns could be made funnier if first submitted for improvement to the Hive. This comes as a ... stinging realization.


Of the roughly 379,502 words I have assembled into 22,712 sentences in 11 years of column writing, I have reluctantly concluded that only a single line — a hyphenated dependent clause published on Dec. 18, 2005 — is so good it cannot possibly be improved upon. It was in a column about a plumber who saved Thanksgiving by abandoning his fancy tools that hadn’t worked; he stood over my clogged toilet like a colossus, plunging it madly with all his might, turning himself into a human piston. The plumber, I wrote, was a modern-day John Henry, “a stool-drivin’ man.”


Other than that line, my oeuvre is pretty much hackwork, when compared with the theoretical possibilities of the Hive.


This is dangerous self-awareness for a humor writer. As any stand-up comic can tell you, humor requires a swagger. If you don’t think you are the funniest guy in the room, before you say a word you’re already toast. Wry toast.


(I deal with this problem the same way I deal with most of my shortcomings: by fearlessly confronting the painful truth, and then denying it flatly.)


How do I deal with this problem? Sometimes, patently dishonest logic helps. For example, I know that I AM the funniest guy in the room since I write alone in the bleak basement bumhole that is my office.2


In the end, a man has to learn to face his shortcomings; sometimes, I’ll just sigh and step closer to the porcelain. But mostly, I fearlessly confront a painful truth, and then deny it flatly. Very flatly. For example, I do not have good muscle tone, in the sense that if I were hit in the belly by a line drive, the ball would comfortably nestle in, like a fetus. My belly’s so gooey that if they showed a full frontal nude picture of me on network TV, they wouldn't have to pixelate anything.4


But in my mind, I’m a stud: My middle is as gutless (as a fish fillet) as an incumbent congressman in October of an election year5 — cartoonishly flat, like (Dagwood Bumstead’s.) Olive Oyl in a bikini.6 In the same vainvein, I continue to believe I’m the funniest guy in the room. Sure, it’s delusional and obnoxious, but, hey, I’m a writer, not a comic. I can’t hear you boo, so there’s nothing you can do about it short of becoming a majority shareholder in The Washington Post Company.8


Or is there? Can you make this column funnier? Submit your revisions by e-mail — only one revised line per e-mail, though you may submit multiple e-mails — to Subject line: Wikicolumn. Gene will objectively weigh your humor against his, and publish a new, improved column online, with all the appropriate substitutions. All published improvements will be credited. The best single change will win a signed copy of (“The Fiddler In the Subway,” a collection of Gene’s feature stories.) “I’ll Mature When I’m Dead,” by Dave Barry. 9


The joke about Victor Yugo was written by Dave Zarrow of Herndon, the world’s funniest office-products dealer.

Jeff Contompasis, Ashburn, Va.

“Unique Quite”

3 Ron Sholders, Land O Lakes, Fla.

4 E. Cline

5 Michael Reinemer, Annandale

6 "Delta Smelt"

7 Barry Koch, Catlett, Va.

8 Howard Walderman, Columbia, Md.

9 Jim Greenlees, Silver Spring; also Edward L Fink, Maryland

If you haven't taken the polls, please take 'em now.  I am going to speak right quick about the Kenyon poem, because so many of you are misunderstanding it.  It's better than you think, by a lot. 


Okay, let's go. 

Surely I am not the only one disturbed by the celebrations reported at the death of bin Laden. While I'm glad he is no longer able to lead others to kill, the idea of rejoicing at the death of any living being seems wrong on so many levels...

I think this is fertile grounds for an Instapoll.    

Gene, A recent story in the Times about a woman named Bel Kaufman mentioned a joke her class on Jewish humor at Hunter college discussed:


The Frenchman says:  I'm tired and thirsty. I must have wine. The German says:  I'm tired and thirsty. I must have beer. The Jew says: I'm tired and thirsty. I must have diabetes.


Despite not being Jewish, I thought this was hilarious, if only for the fun with language. Most people I've repeated it to didn't think it was funny. So I turn to you, the Chief Justice of Humor.

Of course it's funny.     Jew as neurotic is always funny. 


What is Jewish foreplay?



Is Bel Kaufman still alive?    If I am correct, many dozens of years ago she wrote a wonderful book about teaching, called "Up the Down Staircase."    


Wow, people sure do take things literally, don't they? The poll results remind me of how one of my profs in college gave the members of a freshman comp class a copy of Swift's "A Modest Proposal," and more than half of them thought the author meant every word! Sheesh.

Hahaha.  Exactly.   Okay, peeps, prepare to have your mind blown.    See below. 

Okay, the Kenyon piece.   I'm ready to call it a poem.  And I'm ready to say it's really good.   And that many if not most of -- like me, initially -- are not quite getting what's happening. 

It's a poem because it's playing with identity and voice in a somewhat mystical way; it's not what it initially seems to be, but not because of the conditional voice.   The conditional voice is real and straightforward.  The beauty of this poem is about a feint over the identity of the narrator.   The narrator is not the beleaguered woman.   The narrator, Kenyon, is the woman with the rings watching the other woman check out, and imagining what her life would have been like. 

Read it back that way, and it all makes sense.   What's "real" is the scene in front of her: She sees the shopping carts, hears the kids' names, notes the poorness, the frantic life.    Everything else she imagines. 

A reader below gets this, but doesn't like the poem for reasons I understand. 

Isn't it about time that the media stopped treating anything from Breitbart as other than suspect?


When I go on other chats, I can merely either lurk or ask a question without much preparation. Here I have multiple polls, homework, and what seem like take home tests. Who has the time? By the way, any truth to the rumor that you are the brother of AFT President Randi Weingarten?

Nope.  I am her sister. 

does the big changes to the hunt mean more local flavored knowledge required?


After tweeting about how little you use dashes - your tweet estimated that you've only used 38 - you used one in your introduction. Perhaps - though I haven't looked this up - you use them more in your chats? Is it possible - assuming you have less scrutiny from editors - that you use them more in your drafts?

You misunderstood my tweet about dashes.  I was reacting to a Slate story saying dashes suck and good writers shouldn't use em.   I noted WITH ENORMOUS MODESTY AND SELF-DEPRECATION THANK YOU that I had used 38 dashes in just my two stories that won Pulitzers. 

Gene, not sure what this says, but, why does it appear that all the best lines were written by men? Are there no funny women out there??!

There are.   The girls did not do well in this contest, though.   Abha, can you link to a column I did some time ago about how girls are funny?  Search me, Hitchens, Manteuffel and Barreca.    

Gene, should I pay the NYT's subscription fee? I really like the paper, esp. the columns, lifestyle and real estate sections. Since they instituted the fee, I have all but stopped reading. $15 would not make a noticeable impact on my budget, but apparently, it's more than I'm willing to spend. For $5 a month, I would have singed up on the first day. I have some guilt about this though, like I'm shirking my responsibility to support a paper I have whose resources I have availed myself of frequently without contributing anything in payment. But, still, my inner skinflint chafes at the $15.

Yes, you should pay. 

C'mon, people.  Newspapers are in trouble, and they are great.   Pay.   It's bupkis. 

Hi Gene, As someone who has written about painful subjects, I'm wondering if you've read or heard about the feature story in the latest Esquire magazine. It's about Dr. William Petit - he and his family were the victims of a home invasion and brutal murders. Dr. Petit is the sole survivor of the attack. I read it last night and I just can't shake it, not just the horrible details, but the way it was written so beautifully about a broken man. I've been looking for an online version of it but it's not on the Esquire site - I guess it's too grim for their target audience. Maybe you and Ryan D'Agostino, the author of the feature, should start a club for writers who specialize in covering topics that keep people up at night. You share a knack for making me want to keep reading, even when the details feel like a punch in the gut. So my question is, how do you shake it? If I'm reeling from a story just from reading it, how do you handle being so immersed in the details?

Haven't read it yet, but I ache for that guy.   Looking forward to the read, if that doesn't sound too ghoulish. 

Gene, reading your update on the 3rd made me smile ear to ear. I had the exact same experience and also recognized the joy in that experience for what it was. As my birthday was Monday the 2nd, I had taken the day off of work. Normally, the first thing I do upon arrival at work is to read i usually don't get to my print copy until I'm home from work. I woke up early on Monday and took my cats to their annual vet appointment. Didn't know a thing. Came home about 930am, scooped up my paper from the driveway, came inside the house, made a cup of coffee, and settled down on the couch for the crossword and to enjoy my day off. Opened up the paper, and actually dropped it right back down again, in surprise. Picked it up again and read it several times over. I read the details, completely entranced. Then and only then did I go online, to see how the internet was reacting. It was awesome. For what its worth, I'm fairly young (it was my 33rd birthday Monday), but I have my own personal soapbox about saving newspapers. I wanted to be Bob Woodward when I was growing up. Still do, really.

I still do, too! 

Here's the column: The Male of the Specious

I didn't find it offensive and unfunny because someone died; I found it unfunny because "austic people have no empathy and only take interest in shiny objects" is lazy writing. (No, I don't know anyone with any form of ASD personally.)

I cringed a little but find it hilarious.   I know two people with autism -- one mildly autistic, one with Asperger's, which is a form of it -- and both loved the clip.    

I think sometimes were are too eager to take offense on behalf of someone else. 

Gene, I don't know where else to turn. This commercial appears repeatedly on some of my favorite shows, and the last three seconds of it are utterly inexplicable. I am a gay male so I guess I'm out of my element here. On behalf of straight people, could you please explain why the creators of this commercial portrayed this man's extreme reaction to the news that the couple now possess... three... of these objects? What are they getting at?

I cannot.  And I have tried.   Can anyone explain why this husband is almost orgasmically excited that his wife has received not one but three free dildos in the mail?     

Oh, before I forget:  I'm going to have to leave six minutes early today.   In return you get a lot of questions answered.  I was up at 5 am.  I swear. 

I once worked for a manufacturing company with a lot of trademarked names. They always emphasized how Xerox went to a verb for copying documents, and lost trademark protection.

Nope, Xerox is still a protected trademark, precisely because they fought the genericization of their name, just as Stetson did with me.   

Hi, Gene. If anyone has a right to be offended by the autistic reporter bit on the Onion, I'm your girl. My daughter and I have Asperger's. My son has autism. But I thought the piece was hilarious. It captures exactly the difficulties of living on the spectrum, and I don't get any sense of contempt from it. It reads more like a culture clash.

Exactly the answer I got from my friends. 

Gene, I am certain you have an opinion regarding scrambling eggs in the microwave (versus a skillet or pan)?


The microwave may be used as an original-cooking instrument only for corn on the cob and bacon. 

You're welcome. 

...are scaring me, too. Any worries that you could turn the crowd from boos to somethi more violent?

No.    The big change will probably be Dave's, mine, and Tom's new ulcers. 

She's not only alive, she's 100 years old, giving interviews, and still funny.

Wow.   What a wonderful thing to learn.   That book was great. 

I think many people would disagree with your conclusion that Bin Laden was assassinated. This was a targeted operation, to be sure, but military commanders have said there were situations in which they would have taken Bin Laden alive. It wasn't as if he was killed by a sniper while walking out of a mosque.

Er, I strongly believe that the instructions were clear, if tacit:  Dead.   I think we will learn this with the inevitable  great book, probably by Woodward. 

Gene, My sister's 14 year old bordier collie had to be put down on Friday, ironically the day before my copy of "Old Dogs" arrived in the mail. If I bring a copy to the Post Hunt on Sunday would you be willing to autograph it?

Of course. 

Gene If someone your large-ish circle of friends/acquaintances has known for years is very cheap (to the point of shorting friends in said circle - regularly), at what point would you draw the line? And how would you do it? Assume said person is pathological about it and possibly clueless although we're not sure on the last part. We don't think she can change (think of a hoarder who gets really anxious when you take away the garbage) but we are all tired of picking up the lion's share of things and being slighted especially when we treat her well. You know, the one who watches to see what others put on the tab and then barely covers her food and not the tax/tip (waiter overall gets full tip but smaller than group intended). Or who refuses to cover her share of the cab ride because "you were going there anyway and I could always take public transport if I wanted to". I could go on. If she were poor it would be one thing. She isn't - she and her hub paid off their large home 15 yrs early. We joke that we all chipped in over the years to help them with their goal. Ps: my favorite story is the one where we happened to be at lunch the day before my birthday. She asked what my wkd plans were. I told her some friends were taking me out for my birthday the next day. A look of panic crossed her face and she changed the subject. She didn't so much as offer a toast/buy a drink/buy lunch. This was particularly amusing because on a few occasions the tables were turned and I, being normal, bought her lunch each time.

I have an answer but many readers will disagree.   I believe that small amounts of money are garbage, and that pettiness is a terrible trait.   This person is incorrigible and dysfunctional and kind of sad.  Either jettison her as a friend, or, if you like her, ignore it. 

I felt the rush of nausea, again.  Thanks.

This is a misleading headline though.   "Record numbers" appears to refer to the last 15 years or so.  

But the photo.   I have looked at dozens of such photos. 

This is a line from my story: 

"His mugshot was in the newspapers and on TV, with the haunted, hunted naked-eyed look these parents always have, up against the wall." 

I guess this isn't really a medical question, but I feel like you're only person I can ask: I have an intense aversion to touching chalk. This wouldn't be an issue except that I have an 18 month old who spends a lot of time drawing with chalk on the sidewalk outside. Sometimes I have to handle the chalk -- she hands it to me, or I help her put it away -- and I can barely stand it. More than once, I've dropped a piece of chalk she handed to me like it was a burning hot coal. I feel like a freak! I don't recall this being a problem when I was in school and had to write on the chalkboard. What's wrong with me????

Okay, it is possible this is the odddest question yet in Chat humor.   Not the most disturbing, by any means -- that probably would have been the tampon one I almost got fired for -- but the oddest. 

Does anyone have any thoughts about this? 

Okay, I can't stand it when people rub the flat of their hand over a bedsheet.    I need to leave the room.

Other confessions? 

For $15 a month I could be watching "Game of Thrones" rather than bit-torrenting it. Please tell me you understand any part of theis comment.

I understand "$15 a month."

I'm one of the many who missed the point of the poem. However, the conditional voice ends weirdly in the final paragraph and so I'm still confused. Shouldn't it say "In ninety seconds we WOULD HAVE made this life..."?

I don't think so.   I think she's adopted the finality of it. 

What does this woman have against you? And what have you done to her? She flames you on Twitter, and writes in her blog that you are a mean spirited person, specifically: "nasty, petty Gene Weingarten."

Ah.  La Alkon. 


Amy Alkon is an advice columnist and author and blogger of the scratch-your-eyes-oout variety.  She also has a very un-self-aware book about how not to be rude.    

I had never heard of her until one day a couple of months ago, on Twitter.   I had just tweeted this:

"My Sodastream seltzer maker is the best purchase I ever made.   That's free, Sodastream, but if you want more, you will have to pay."

Then, just to make my unserious state of mind clear, when a Twitterer asked what flavor seltzer I liked,  I wrote:  "None.  I like my seltzer like I like my women: Cold, plain, and gassy."

So, basically, you know.   Not serious.   I have 4,200 Twitter followers.   4,199 seemed to get this, especially in light of the rather strident stance I have taken in the past regarding celebs who endorse commercial products; I call them harlots.   So most peoplel got it. 

Alas, not poor Amy.   And she didn't get it in a characteristically hostile way.   She tweeted to her followers that I had committed a terrible journalistic ethical breech. 

I ignored this, cause I didn't really want to embarrass her for being maybe just the teensiest bit shrill and humorless.    

Then, a few days later, she tweeted again, asking me and all her followers why I hadn't responded to her charges that I am unethical.   At that point I emailed her privately, explaining it was a joke.    She didn't buy it.   Tweeted again that I am a bad 'un.

I confess that at that point I emailed her to tell her in a blunt way in what high regard I did not hold her.   It was not a nice letter, but even then, I was being nasty in private.   I've never written publicly about any of this before.   The letter noted that she had very strong opinions of what constitutes journalistic ethics for someone whose oeuvre might not be defined, exactly, as journalism.   That's what she was blogging about recently.   

Anyway, I don't want to go on any more about Amy.  Instead, I will be nice and give her the last word.  Here is a column she wrote a little while ago about the TSA.  I believe it will tell you all you need to know.  Enjoy.   

The entire Pentagon Papers, except for 11 words, are being released. For those of us old enough to remember, this is a big deal, or at least would have been back when the Viet Nam War was still going on. There may be some people at the Post who would agree. My question for you: what do you think could possibly be the 11 words that we are not ready to be allowed to see?

I guarantee they somehow involve Henry Kissinger. 

On the Post website now! In one of the articles on the bus crash on 95 "Four people were killed dead"


Just to be paranoid: what are your controls against every team member going up and asking for their team's two allotted goody bags, and what's the contingency for when they run out an hour before hand with people still showing up?

Some people will do this.    Similar people ride bikes on the sidewalk and/or slip ladies "the date rape drug."

I expect most people will have senses of honor. 

Um, she could only really use two dildos at any one time -- guess he'll have to use the third one.

I've gotten many variations of this.   This is one of the tamer ones. 

This particular girl, who has a substantial amount of Style Invitational Ink to her name, did not find the contest interesting. It was a wienie-waving contest: "See if your sense of humor is even HUGER and MORE IMPRESSIVE than my already internationally recognized MASSIVELY ENORMOUS sense of humor." No thanks. Also, I already won one of your books, via some girlie display of intellect.

Oooh, interesting!

I acknowledge the notion of competition, but how is this different from entering The Style Invitational? 

Gene, About a month ago, my left pupil suddenly became larger than my right pupil. Both are reactive to light. I've seen doctors, of course, who have ordered CT scans, MRIs, etc. All normal. The ophthalmologist said it was probably sequelae from years of chronic severe migraines. They're both still unequal. And I am still curious about the actual mechanism for why. Any thoughts? Thanks.

My main thought is to tell people:  This person was lucky, but that symptom is often dire.   If it happens to you, see a doc. 


Good morning Gene- I ran in the Dead Man's Run at Congressional Cemetery this weekend and as an ardent fan of yours for years and was pleasantly surprised when you came to the mic as part of the festivities. Over the years I have dismissed your protestations that you are not good in person. I was certain that as someone who is so fantastic in print you were just selling yourself short. Well, i hate to admit this but i was wrong and you were right. Print is really your best medium. I had a lovely time at the race, was thrilled to support the cemetery and learned more about one of my favorite writers. All in all a terrific morning. THANKS!

This weekend's column is going to discuss that disaster.  After a while I just turned off the too-weak mike and said things absolutely no one could hear.   THEY were funny. 

Ironically, the comment you posted on May 10 from someone thoughtfully explaining why they are religious set forth precisely the reason why I am not. Just because you want something to exist doesn't make it so. Yet people throughout history have so obviously invented their religions in order to give meaning to what they see, as even the chatter admits. Sorry if this sounds snide, but part of growing up is coming to terms with the fact that life isn't some scripted-out play supervised by some benevolent overseer. This is our world, and our time on it, and it's up to us to make the best of it. That fact isn't frightening; it's liberating. It's also clear that people make their religions up as they go along because religion always seems to be the product of its particular time and place. I'm not expecting divine truth to be revealed, but it's telling to me that religion almost never seems to advance a theory of existence that is even consistent with what we now know about the universe. And that's because it wasn't god's word being revealed, but some fallible person's idea of things that made it onto the page. With the Old Testament, for example, you can either believe in Noah's flood or in the fossil record, but not both. You can accept the Biblical story of how humanity spread, or that the precolumbian civilizations of the Western Hemisphere existed for thousands of years, but not both. Clearly the Bible was written by a bunch of people living in the Middle East a few millennia ago, because that's the only world with which it is consistent. They were utterly ignorant of galaxies, or continental drift, or natural selection, and it shows. It's like an elderly woman from Cleveland who claims to be the Russian princess Anastasia, yet the only childhood events she can recall just happen to be the same ones written about in an Anastasia book that's in the Cleveland public library, down to the errors. Police deal with that all the time, when they get people who claim to know about a crime yet can't describe anything other than what's been publicly released. That's because they're frauds. It's just so obvious, to me anyway, that religion has the same basic problem.

Well, I agree with you, but without the anger and hostility.  I think religion is, and has always been, an effort to tame our terrors, and place meaning on things that are inherently hard to understand.   I think it also has been an effort to organize our behavior along(largely) moral avenues.    It has often failed these goals  mightily and it has sometimes succeeded spectacularly.       I don't see how the rational mind, however, can interpret religion as anything but a man-made effort to make sense of the bewildering.   In that, I agree with you.  

Both my son and I have Asperger's, and I found the ONN clip uncomfortable. I think this is because it was about a death, and we've had specific discussions with our son about how when there's a death involved, that's the focal point. Given that his perseverative interest for several years was trains, I think the clip just hit too close to home for me. That said, I did chuckle at the list of things the train ran over and the guy's reaction when the conductor was mentioned.

Okay, noted.   

And I congratulate all of you:  the list of things the train ran over was clearly the great line in that.   Not that many things have me spewing drinks through the nose. 

One headline writer is sure having some aptonym fun


Were you perhaps breach-loaded?


I can touch chalk, but the idea of taking those cotton balls out of a pill bottle makes me ill. If I have a headache and nobody is around, I would rather skip the pills than have to touch the cotton. I've tried using a fork or other sharp object but the result is the same. My family taunts me for this.

We need more.   Tactile insanities. 

Walking on the beach at Ocean City a few weeks ago (at low tide), I came across the following message: "Best Friends Forever <3". This message had been etched into the damp sand above the current waves but well below the high-tide line. For a moment I adopted an art-critic pose and expounded to my wife about how this (presumably unintentional) artist had created a profound statement on the ephemerality of human relationships, as measured against the inexorable decay of time and natural forces. Then I realized that in addition to being nerdy and faux-pretentious, I was also -- though only 33 -- hopelessly out of touch with modern culture and language. I send text messages all the time. But it would NEVER occur to me, in this situation, to eschew the traditional heart symbol, and actually use my shovel, or big toe or whatever, to CARVE INTO THE SAND the symbols for "less than three."

There is nothing I can say that will improve this post. 

Hi, Gene. As I'm sure you know, the Jane Kenyon poem was a selection on The Writer's Almanac this week. After years of financial problems, my husband and I are thinking about having a baby. Over the holiday weekend, I considered suggesting making the baby. I remembered the poem and couldn't do it.

I think you've just defined a good poem. 

Only Daniel and David? How could you have overlooked "Michael"??? Prince William now has a father-in-law named Michael so that's got to pass with the stuffy-old-English crowd, no?


But this reminds me of something that happened on the worst date I have ever been on in my entire life. It's a long story but all you need to know is that he brought his mother, and two of her friends, along...anyway, we are both Jewish. He had a very Jewish last name. Mine is recognizably Jewish if you grew up in Germany but to Americans it just sounds German. He started quizzing me about how on earth a Jewish girl like me could have ended up with my first name (which, for the record, is an unmistakeably Old Testament name although it's French.) His first name? "Robert."


Okay, I think it's time to put out an APB:  Can any of you top this first-date disaster?

I am assuming, ma'am, this was also a last date?  

Gene, I noticed the hunt is starting at 11:30 this year instead of 12:00. Does that mean the format's different, or that it's just starting a half hour earlier? Should we expect it to end about a half hour earlier than the usual 3:45ish ending time, or about the same as usual? Or did you start it earlier because this is a marathon hunt you expect to last well into the nighttime? Thanks!

Nope, the Hunt starts at noon, as always.  We've been advising 11:30 just to assure you enough time to get Goody Bags and whatnot.


But this reminds me of two things:  The mag says bring a cellphone. We probably should specify that each team should have at least one phone with text capabilities, though T the B tells me that's pretty much all cellphones nowadays, anyway. 


Secondly, I am reminded to tell you of this neat thing:


Hunters can upload photos of their team (and hopefully also a funny "team motto") here; the best will get Hunt T-shirts.

I have an answer for the poster who wanted to know we atheists can't just live and let live and wondered why you have spirituality polls. It's easy for believers to say live and let live since they dominate the public discourse. Your choices aren't limited by the presence of atheists in your midst. But mine are limited by you. It matters to me that others believe in a deity because they keep invoking that deity as the basis on which my society should make decisions that affect me. I can't hope for a plausible candidate for national office who doesn't profess belief in a deity because your crowd keeps insisting that only the sky fairy believers can be truly moral or properly lead a country they believe was "founded" on "Judeo-Christian values." Some of my legislators invoke the sky fairy as a basis for denying some groups of adults the right to marry, even though marriage is a civil institution with civil rights and obligations in this country. It's the believers who insist that I, or my daughters, should make decisions about our bodies based on your belief that the sky fairy told you when life begins or because the sky fairy says that sex is bad and women who decide to have sex are no longer "innocent" and have forfeited their personal autonomy. When you stop insisting that God play a role in our legal and political system, I'll stop caring about whether you believe in a deity or an afterlife. Whatever floats your boat is fine with me as soon as you stop trying to sink mine because God told you to.



Christopher Hitchens points out that in society, it is considered a good thing to identify oneself as "a person of faith."  It's often a place of refuge for the accused.     It's like saying "I am a moral person."   Whereas Hitchens points out it is, at the very most, a neutral declaration, like, "I am a right-handed person," or  "I weigh 158 pounds."    

You said: "Polytheistic gods were cartoons: They fought among themselves, they were placatable by offerings and ceremonies -- they hated and lusted and were jealous; they were essentially humans with superpowers, acting out a silly mythology, consistent within its silly self." You traduce them, sir. Their stories were a way to educate. For example: Ceres/Demeter was the goddess of agriculture/grain; her daughter Proserpina/Persephone was abducted to the underworld by Pluto/Hades; in her grief C/D let everything die; Jupiter/Zeus brokers a deal that brings Proserpina/Persephone back, but she ate pomegranate seeds so she has to spend a third of the year in the underworld forevermore. When Demeter and her daughter were reunited, the Earth flourished with vegetation and color, but for the months each year when Persephone returned to the underworld, the earth once again became a barren realm. Its an origin story to explain the seasons and when to plant and harvest. It is also, like Dionysus/Baccus's story (also not surprisingly about viniculture/agriculture, life and death/pruning of the vine) early resurrection mythology.

And you, sir, are a poltroon. 

But, understood. 

This is in reference to a secular comment I made in the last update about why the development of monotheism was important. 

She's complaining about rape because some other woman, in a public place, got her hand in the cameltoe through the pants? That's not rape. That's only second base, at best.

I have never seen a search that intimate.   Have any women out there experienced that? 

I really don't understand the reaction that we shouldn't celebrate his death because he was a human being, one of god's little snowflakes, etc. He was a terrible man who did terrible things. He is responsible for the death of thousands of people. The world is a better place without him. Do people feel the same way about the death of Hitler, or Pol Pot, or other individuals who have done terrible things to many people? Personally, the only reason I wasn't out there in the streets celebrating is because we have a very long way to go before the scourge of terrorism he propagated is stamped out. (If it ever is).

I was uncomfortable for two reasons:  1) yahoos.   2) It really doesn't seem like what Americans do.   It felt like "Death to traitors" or something.   

Yarn touching my teeth. Or even seeing people bite on yarn. Always been this way. Just thinking about it makes me want to brush my teeth vigorously to get the feeling off of them.

I love these.   More. 

My sisters came to visit for the day and I found clear evidence that they had used my (fairly) expensive peach-scented facial cream: they both smelled of peaches and there was a fresh blob of lotion on the sink. It made me grin. When we were growing up, we all shared a room and a bathroom. If something was left in the open it was fair game. My husband said the only thing he wouldn't ever share with anyone would be a toothbrush. Not that I'm interested in sharing his toothbrush, but it got me thinking... What is the protocol for sharing a toothbrush? Blood relative? Current lover? Dire emergency? Sibling?

Current lover.   Unless conditions are survivalist.   Having said that, I share ice cream and yogurt with Murphy.  

I lick then she licks, I lick then she licks.  

Lord, I love that hound. 

Please tell us how to microwave corn. Please please please.

I have in the past.   Unhusked ear.   One minute  and a half  on high.   Astoundingly, it works.    

Artichokes - the microwave is GREAT for artichokes. Cuts the cooking time way down. I don't have a microwave, but when I rented apartments that have them, I cooked a lot more artichokes.

Don't they need the wet of water? 

If he actually did what he's accused of, I agree. But I also just read the Washington Post article about that poor phys ed teacher, accused of sexual misconduct by a 12 year old troublemaker he had corrected for bad behavior, and his and his family's life has been ruined. Even though he's now legally cleared of the crime, the school system is still treating him as if he were guilty! So maybe we should wait to see if it's more than an uncorroborated accusation before we rush to judgment.

Okay, this is about DSK, and I certainly agre -- kaff kaff, sniff - that he is innocent until proven guilty.   However, we are told by the New York media that there is DNA involved, found on the alleged victim's shirt and elsewhere, and that DSK's defense is going to be consensuality.   To which I want to paraphrase (this actually might be a direct quote) Katha Pollitt:  "Sure, what chambermaid in her right mind wouldn't love to fellate a naked sixty-two year old man who bursts naked out of the bathroom?"

I always heard that Shel Silverstein wrote A Boy Named Sue about his friend, the (male) radio humorist Jean Shepherd. And a bossy Yiddish woman is a "ballaboosta," AKA a ballbuster.

Both of these are in reference to something from a recent chat update. 

No, Silverstein wrote "A Boy Named Sue" about a boy named Sue, the Tennessee country lawyer Sue Hicks, which is one of the world's greatest aptonyms.    Sue prosecuted John Scopes. 

And yes, that is the correct answer about the world's greatest uninentional transliteration.   

Just an FYI that the show Futurama has entered "roo roo" territory before, specifically the "inverse roo roo" one of the other readers suggested. A snippet.  The skeleton joke is pretty great.

This is superior.   

I need some advice and I hope you can help. I received a parking ticket in SW DC for parking less than three feet from another vehicle. This seems like rather a large amount of space to leave between cars parked on the street, but aside from that -- even if I park more than 3 ft from other cars, what if one of those car leave and the next guy parks less than 3 ft from me? Am I supposed to check my car every few hours to make sure that the 3 ft minimum distance is being maintained? In your opinion, should I contest this ticket?

I have never heard of anything remotely like this.  It's insane.   Did you contest it?  You should.  For one thing, as you point out, it's impossible to prove.  For another, there cannot be any such law. 

If there is, I need to know.  I could write a whole column on that. 

Kirk Cameron said that "to say anything negative about Stephen Hawking is like bullying a blind man. He has an unfair disadvantage, and that gives him a free pass on some of his absurd ideas." I find the idea of Cameron figuratively patting Hawking on the head and saying, "poor thing, at least he means well," mind-blowingly ironic. I made the mistake of reading some of the comments on articles about this. Even discounting the comments that dismiss scientific knowledge out of hand, there's a thread that disturbs me--the idea that science and religion can be utterly compartmentalized and that science has no role in such discussions.

You miss the beauty of this.   An "unfair disadvantage" is brilliant. 

Gene, In your last update you briefly but clearly implied what sounds like Hemlock Society-like support for human euthanasia: "I assume that at some point I will be afflicted with something that so proscribes and limits my enjoyment of life... that death is preferable. I think we all have that right." Assuming I'm basically interpreting you right: (a) I agree. I think it's crazy we can choose this for beloved family pets but not (in most states) for ourselves. (b) I'm curious what you think about intense medical interventions that attempt to save a dramatically premature baby (for the sake of concreteness, let's say born around 29 weeks). Of course I get and feel the obvious impulse here, but also suspect there are huge costs involved -- much like a lot of near-end-of-life interventions -- and it seems to me that losing a child who hasn't really lived yet is objectively far less tragic than losing one who has. I imagine this sounds inhuman and offensive, but that's why I'm submitting to this chat, which historically hasn't shied away from offensiveness. What likelihood of survival justifies mechanical or pharmaceutical help for a baby born before nature intended? Is it anything over 0%?

Many years ago, when I was a very young editor in Miami, we ran a story on exactly this topic.    It was titled "This Is The Story of the Survival of Justin Partridge."   It was written by his father, a medical student.   Justin was saved at 26 weeks, through heroic measures costing millions of dollars.  The story explored, among other things, whether it was worth it.    Af the time the story was written, Justin was surviving, but with an uncertain future.  It was unclear what abilities he would have.

A few years ago, I found him on Facebook and contacted him.  He was a college student.  Good life.  Enormously grateful.   Has kept the article all these years, to remind him of the fragility of life.  

Made me cry, it did. 

I'm okay with a lot of money at the front end.  Back end, not so much.   


Did you think it was ghoulish that during WW II Mussolini was hung up by his heels in public, as a sign of disrespect?

Well, yeah.   

When you start writing with a retractable ball-point pen, except the point is still retracted so you just have the (usually plastic) barrel tip thingy scratching against paper. I HATE that.

Me. too.  But not tothe point of phobia. 

"I can't stand it when people rub the flat of their hand over a bedsheet. I need to leave the room." Huh? Just how often do you witness this action?

Whenever Rib makes a bed? 

When I enter the SI, I am hoping for my entry to be judged the funniest amongst other amateurs. But I am not trying to prove to Mr Big Shot Humor Writer that I am funnier than he is. That sort of direct challenge seems more like a guy thing.

I think this is .... adorable.   Thank you. 

It's not just you, fellow-chatter. My husband also can't touch chalk (or soil, or flour). Grainier things like sugar and salt and sand are ok. But he has it worse than you... he's a teacher. At one point he was considering buying his OWN overhead projector, because his school didn't have one consistently available for him. Finally, he got a whiteboard in his classroom. Much happier now.


Might be some kind of sensory integration issue. I have some sensory-related problems and what I find tolerable/unbearable tends to vary throughout my life, especially if the amount of time I spend around the object in question increases. Anyway, your solution.

Thank you. 

My answers matched yours exactly on the Kenyon poem - that has lightened my day. My day is dark because I'm at home, with only one dog at me feet instead of 2. My little heart tumor dog began declining this weekend, so today was the day to release her from a body that was betraying her. My son, her special boy, was with us. And I had to go to the DMV because I stupidly allowed my license to expire. Of alll the things that one would not wish to do on such a day as this, that has to be pretty high on the list.

Awww.  Sorry.  It gets better.  

A cure is another dog, you know, eventually.  Murphy is snoring, loudly,  at my feet. 

Now that is interesting becasue most that live (with one big excption) live a billion heart beats. That ould be a nice even line for awareness. But Humans live longer. So if this is so, we do have an advantage. Check it out. 

This is fascinating. 

So maybe it will all be made clear by the time this chat appears, but why in the world is Prick City insinuating that the US didn't really kill Osama bin Laden? I mean, aside from the obvious that the author's a jerk who can't allow a non-conservative to get credit for having done something positive.

This question was filed a few days ago.  Stantis apparently decided he was being an ass, and has backed away. 

The best part of acrostics isn't the beginning, when you're just filling in answers. It isn't the end, when a child could complete the puzzle. The best part of acrostics is in the middle, when you have just enough clues to fill in either a word in the quotation or an answer. If the situation were any more challenging, you wouldn't know enough to proceed, but because you're so smart, you get a wonderful feeling of overcoming the most difficult sort of mental challenges you can handle. But cryptic crosswords are better, because they give you that feeling all the time.

Your analysis of crostics is exactly right, but your affection for cryptics is misplaced.   They are affected, mannered puzzles created by fops who are a little too pleased with themselves and who would get great joy explaining them in a whiny nasal voice, over crumpets and Port.   

Am I justified in thinking Ben Stein is an [term for donkey] for making this argument that rich people don't commit crimes and that Dominique Strauss-Kahn deserves different treatment because of his resume?

Yeah, I twote about this recently. 

Ben Stein is a colossal horse's ass, and as this mammoth piece of mean-spirited, elitist illogic makes clear, he should never be listened to again.   The most ludicrously dishonest  point in here is that crimes tend to be committed by criminals, and there's no evidence before this that DSK is a criminal.   Which is why, of course, Madoff is innocent.   And OJ.    



Is it me, or did Karen Houppart nail this piece for the magazine? It could be because of my own personal history riding the last MARC train home from Baltimore to DC. But, I thought this was one of the better writings I have read in a long time and it evoked the same feelings as when I read "Pearls before Breakfast." What say you, Mr. 2x Pulitzer Prize winning writer?

I really liked this piece.    It has some beautiful observation.   Good writing is so often good observation: 

But, by this time, the exhausted commuters on the 446 are mulling over the day’s regrets, the “to do” lists left undone. The clicketyclack of the train wheels seem to chide: “Should-a, would-a, could-a.” As the train pulls into each station, the brakes sound as though they are exhaling in resignation.

Please weigh in on this.


I think he started his sentence and then went down a path that just sounded bad...he didn't mean to offend anyone.

Your link is to the comments.   Here is the story and video.

Okay, I need to begin with a disclaimer:  I love Lars Von Trier because he gave me one of my favorite columns of all time; he played along brilliantly, and I am indebted to him.   He has a wonderfully self-deprecatory  sense of humor.  

I think, in his defense, that is what we were seeing here.  It failed.   I think he was trying to do something complicated -- he is apparently wretchedly uncomfortable in public settings; hates interviews like this, and was trying to present himself in a wretched, tortured light.   I am a Nazi; I understand Hitler.   It just failed horribly, and, alas,  his efforts to rescue himself he stayed in character:  "I like Jews -- well maybe not the Israelis, they are a pain in the ass..."

It was a train wreck.   I understand his expulsion.   It's too bad because I don't think any of that represents any of his actual thinking.   I don't think he is even a closet Nazi sympathizer. 

What IS hilarious here is watching the video, and watching poor Kirsten Dunst dying a little with every word of his.  

This is just a terrific piece--the tone is just right.

Florida is a surreal place.    There are things people are simply inured to that drop newcomers' jaws.    I remember looking out at my backyard the first morning I was there, and seeing crabs walking across the lawn.  They were walking erect, eyes on me, sideways.  

The rains are particularly hilarious.   It  will be a beautiful day.   Then, in about a minute, the clowd darkens.   Then there is a storm of ferocious proportions -- sheets of rain -- for about six minutes.     Then it is a gorgeous day.      Also, the weather can be nice on your front lawn, but your neighbor across the street is getting drenched.

As a former inhabitant of Silicon Valley, I have several friends who work for Google. All the employees there have been told by their corporate lawyer types that they are only to use the construction "search for <blank> on Google", and never "Google <blank>" for the fear of "Google" becoming generic. They're even supposed to correct their friends for the more casual usage, but no one listens. If you ever really want to make a Google lawyer mad, start saying "Google <blank> on Bing."

It is a doomed crusade, and it's their own damned fault for naming their product something that is so obviously a verb.    You wouldn't naturally say "I'm going to Yahoo that, or Altavista this."  

I must protest your self-demeaning column of Sunday. You, sir, are a well received humor writer and two-time Pulitzer winner. You have committed the grievous error of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner insisting that crossing the street is an act of bravery. Many people can hit one home run off a pro pitcher. As a special ed teacher of the pioneering years wrote, we're just as nutty as the people in the nuthouse. What keeps us out of the nuthouse is FID: Frequency, Intensity and Duration. You are humorous more frequently, your humor is more intense, and each humorous eruption is of longer duration that any of us. The ability to out-do one of your lines once in lifetime does not replace you as the A-Rod of humor. Okay, maybe the Jeter of humor. The Sandy Koufax of circumcised comedy.

I often feel I am the Harold Baines of humor. 

Do we have go down this path again? We have established, in past chats, that you are a prissy schoolmarm about poetry, and that you want everything to be written by T. S. Eliot or Percy Bysshe Shelley. It's amazing to me that someone who came of age in the groovy time of your youth could be such a tight-ass Victorian about poetry, but there you have it. I am very interested in poetry, probably more so than 98 percent of your readers, and even I find this topic tedious, since you are so annoying about it. Let's move on, shall we?


The biggest flaw of Kenyon's poem is the stink of condescension that wafts throughout it. She lacks the perception to see the woman she encounters at the IGA (was the organic market closed that day?) as a sentient being who has made choices about her life and both likes and dislikes aspects of that life. Instead, she sees a noble savage, sentenced to a life of drudgery by an unsatisfying quickie years ago. The kicker is the juxtaposition of each woman's reaction when imagining the other woman's life. To Kenyon, the IGA woman's life would be a nightmare, but, of course, the IGA woman envies Kenyon's life (thin, with lots of rings, what's not to envy?). Please, get over yourself.

I think this is a reasonable objection to it.   As an elitist, I'm with Kenyon.  


And sorry, I meant to link to this earlier. 

They didn't even put the prison jumpsuit on her. This is the weirdest mug shot that I've ever seen.

I cannot even begin to understand this one.  She looks like a corpse. 

Hi Gene: On the off chance you haven't already seen this, check it out.  I'm dying to hear your pithy comment on that one! Thanks, A Loyal Reader

Wow.  That is a great photo! 


He seems to be in mid-lunge, and Barack is trying to hold him back. 


The Rib just looked at this and said, "You know what?  Michelle could dispatch that creep with one hand tied behind her back." 

I have an issue with toilet seat covers sticking to my buttocks, i.e., I stand up (I'm female) and it comes with me. Am I doing something wrong? FWIW, I am also a back-to-front wiper -- no one ever told me I was doing THAT wrong either -- and sometimes bits of t.p. get stuck in the crack. I think I need remedial coursework in how to use the bathroom. What do you think?

I am just grateful to you for sharing. Isn't chat anonymity nice, Maureen?


Technically, I think that tab that falls down into the water is supposed to anchor the paper on the seat.  Are you properly deploying the tab?


And in case I am right, I just guessed at "Maureen."  Relax.

For the record, this word was actually used at least once (to my knowledge) prior to your excellent column last Sunday. It appeared in the film "The Hangover," when one of the characters moved a baby's hand to suggest masturbation, saying "He's jackin' his little weenis!" Never having seen the screenplay, I don't know if this is the actual spelling, but warning you in advance about any potential stuffy letters from the producers.

You're right!    Here it is!  

Rolling Stone just published a list of Dylan's 10 best songs (a little self-serving that 'Like a Rolling Stone' was at the top of list). Any thoughts on what they missed or what they got right?

It's an interesting list.   My quick reaction is that "Visions of Johanna" should be lower down -- maybe number four.    And that there is one egregious error,  in not including "Ballad of a Thin Man," which is my number one.     

I'd like to see "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" in there, too.   Oh, wait:  Positively Fourth Street.   Another serious omission.   I'd delete the gospel song, and maybe "All Along the Watchtower."

But any answer to that question is a matter of opinion, so the concept of provability doesn't apply - there's no true or false answer. That is not the case with the either-or proposition of the existence of gods, which is a question of which proffered fact is true.

This is a reference to a recent chat update.

I disagree with you on your central premise.   Humor is not entirely subjective.     In the next post, I am going to print a long, tedious "joke" that a reader sent in, for its deconstructive value.   People laughed at it, but it is not funny.   Objectively.  You can EXPLAIN why it is not funny.    

Margaret Cho is objectively less funny than Louis C.K. 

Hi Gene - longtime DC resident and chatter here, who has recently moved to China. Ready to file my first dispatch on crosscultural humor. Over spring break, we went to Vietnam for a few days, during which we took a "Mekong Delta tour." On the bus home, to while away the time, the tour guide told a joke, to a group of middle aged American and Australian tourists. It went something like this: So an American woman, an Australian woman, and a Vietnamese woman entered a competition to see who had the biggest breasts. The American woman says, "My breasts are as big as melons!" OK, say the judges, "next." The Australian woman steps up: "My breasts are as big as jackfruit! [a really big fruit, Google an image]. Finally the Vietnamese woman steps up: "My breasts are as big as oranges! ... and that's just the nipple!" There was a brief uncomfortable pause, then we all burst out laughing, a few people really quite hysterically. It went on for some seconds. My humor analysis instincts honed by years of chat lurking, I thought on this later. The premise of the joke itself was ridiculous: Why wouldn't the judges make an independent judgement as to the relative size of the breasts, rather than trusting what the contestants said? Are oranges even remotely nipple-shaped? And, of course, petite Vietnamese women have on average much smaller breasts than Americans. But of course the biggest issue was the context: an official tour guide telling such a joke to a group of respectable paying customers would be a firing offense in the States, I'm sure. (We all understood the culture gap and no one made a complaint. And the joke was harmless enough.) And yet we all laughed uproariously, though more at the bizarre situation than at the joke itself. The tour guide beamed delightedly at the reception her joke had received. Perhaps she had told this joke before and gotten the same reaction, and so been led to think that it was a really funny joke that Americans always loved. And so on. I wonder how many cultural misconceptions are reinforced in this way? Please respond with a short treatise on the structural elements of Vietnamese humor and crosscultural misunderstandings, and an amusing anecdote about a similar experience ...

This entire, miserable pseudo-joke fails because having women stand in front of you and debate the size of their breasts -- the size being self-evident -- is completely inane.  And not in a good way.

I think only number two (haha) makes sense.  And the writers are completely omitting the central psychological explanation: Exposure of the complete irrationality of existence.   It's scary.  We laugh to tame our terror -- much the way we create religion, come to think of it. 

I think you need another choice in future polling - how about "nothing wrong with it, but it's not funny?" I think the Tiki comment falls into that category.

Ah, the Tiki comment.  You are completely wrong. 

It is very funny, and in my mind, Tiki gets a pass.  (Hahahahaha.  Ha.  Kaff kaff.)   

Why?  Because you have to weigh these things against intent.  It's all about intent.  Tiki is speaking affectionately about his Jewish agent.  He gets the benefit of the doubt.  

Why is it funny?  Because it IS a funny irony. 

I contrast this totally to one of the most egregious moments in sitcom TV, which I have mentioned before:  Alf, the alien, and his family, is hiding in the attic from a nosy neighbor.  Alf says "I feel like Anne Frank."

Ech.  No irony at all.  Just bad taste. 

My sister's first date ended prematurely when, during the middle of a movie, she yawned and her mouth would not close. They had to leave the theater and the guy drove her to the emergency room. It was also their last date. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the movie. Also, microwaved corn comes out even better if you wrap each ear in waxed paper, like a tootsie roll.

Er, okay, this is inexcusable but I could imagine what happened to your sister being a turnon.   

I didn't say that.   Someone else said it.  

I'll admit, I use "I'm like..." even though I'm not the biggest fan of it. (My response to the poll was "it's okay.") I think I use it because I'm averse to lying. I could tell you "I said, 'I have a dragon-shaped birthmark.' Julie responded, 'I think it looks more like a horse with wings.'" But maybe I actually said "I think my birthmark looks like a dragon" and Julie actually said "It looks more like a winged horse to me." If I don't remember the exact quotes, I'll often use "I was like" instead of "I said." I know it's crazy, and that nobody's going to think I'm using exact quote, or get angry about me misquoting them. But in my head, using "I was like" gives me the out of indicating that it's not an exact quote.

Your responses to this poll were interesting.   For what it's worth:


I have come to LIKE "I'm like..."     It took me a while, but I think it's a  phrase that carries a fairly complex and nuanced meaning:  "I expressed, in word or substance, the general attitude that.... "  It's succinct.  I like it. 


I also have come to like "No problem."   I used to hate it.   But what I have come to believe is that it is at least slightly preferable to the archaic "You're welcome."   "You're welcome seems to belong in the 19th century.   Whereas "No problem" actually says something:  It has not inconvenienced nor discommoded me to be courteous to you in this manner. 


The rest are bad.   The worst are those that are phony-baloney touchy-feeling, such as "reach out to" and "shared with."


I bear huge shame for saying "Have a nice day."   I do it.   Then I cringe.   Can anyone suggest a better sign off?

I take umbrage at your suggestion that a Stetson is doofusy. It is an American original! Can you name another American hat? I think not.

Yes, I can.  Jughead's hat.  Whatever the hell that is. 

Gene, I doubt I will get a positive responce to this, but as a longtime reader of the comics,I would beg you to resist the urge to turn Barney and Clyde into a political strip. I know it is pretty well set up that way, but don't we deserve a break? With Candorville, Doonesbury, Prickly City, the Knight Life, and often Non Sequitor, we are getting pretty well bombarded with political opinion on a page that I have always looked to for entertainment and diversion. This isn't about Left/Right or anything for me, I just wish I could go to the comics page and not have to skip a percentage of the offerings because I don't care what the author has to say about the issues of the day - I just want a chuckle and to admire som artwork.

I hear you.   And we won't.   We might dip in every once in a while, as we did a week ago, with a week examining "American exceptionalism."   Interestingly, I got contacted by a woman writing for a U.N. publication who wants to use that week in a paper she is writing about the perception of America abroad. 

Hm. Okay, I see that today's B&C is a little political. 

Many years ago in another part of the country, a lawyer for whom I was working had a client name Dr. Bressticker. He was a cardiologist who was looking to get just compensation for the unsuccessful insertion of an at the time new balloon stent in a coronary artery which failed leading to emergency bypass surgery. It reminds one of Daffy Duck exclaiming "Shoot me now!!!".

I apologize for initially doubting your word.   I found him.   This is one of the greatest aptonyms of all time:  A cardiologist named Bresticker.   

What a perfect sentiment. I also liked the descriptiption by the commentor you were responding to in defining the laws of physics as godlike. I came to a similar conclusion during my studies of wildlife biology. Everywhere we look there is life. Bacteria live in the most inhospitable environs we can come up with; the driest desert, the coldest glacier, and the deepest ocean are all teeming with life. I have been completely blown away by the capacity for life in the world. Even as a child I felt something missing when taken to church. I never felt a tug of a greater power while I was there. But when I started studying biology and really understanding evolution, I was blown away. Honestly, I feel the power of eveloution is much more interesting and exciting than any thought of god. The mechanations of life on a microscopic scale are beatifully simple, and on an ecological scale are astoundingly complex... honestly, I can't square that with any god.


"Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution" -- Theodosius Dobzhansky

Repeat:  Atheists do not lack awe. 

Okay, we're done.   Great chat.  Dave Barry and I and Tom the Butcher will be back on Friday at noon for the Post Hunt Chat.

I love fudgesicles/ice cream bars/etc. but I hardly ever eat them because of the threat of my teeth scraping along the wood popsicle stick. Goosebumps just thinking about it. Ew.

Okay, this is the beginning of a series of posts on tactile  bugaboos.  And they are very weird.    Just FYI:  I CHEW Popsicle sticks.   I also chew not only Bic pen tops, but the little plastic plug from the top of the pen. 

Mine is visual, not tactile. I get sick when I see too many perforations. I first noticed it when I saw snow that had been dripped on by icicles. All of those holes in the snow crust turned my stomach. Pocked faces, pen holes through paper, anything with lots of holes will absolutely turn my stomach. Not lace or mesh though.

Are you old enough to have lived through computer paper with sprocket holes?   Did those drive you nuts?

I have a friend who is 27 whose earliest memory of  "technology" are those sprocket holes. 

I can't stand it if you scratch or pick at your jeans with your fingernails. Most other kinds of fabric as well. I can do it myself but it if you do it, it "makes my fingernails itch." According to my mother this is how I've been describing it since I started speaking.

I actually find these fascinating.   It makes me think we all have a dose of obsessive-compulsion. 

I have mentioned this before, but I compulsively count things down when awaiting completion of a small chore.    Ten, nine, eight.... etc.     And if it's longer than ten, I start again.   I will do this during any operation that lasts a bit:  filling a coffee carafe with water, or, um, peeing. 

How is Google obviously a verb except for that is how people have come to use it?

Because it sounds like a verb.   Giggle.  Ogle.  Finagle.   Wiggle.    Boggle.   

"Yahoo" doesn't sound like a verb. 

"Altavista" doesn't sound like a verb. 

Mine aren't tactile but auditory. I have a problem with "rude noises" - the sound of snapping gum or the noise from people's earbuds/headphones that are turned up too loud. It makes me cringe to the point where I'm almost in tears from their "rudeness." (I commute 35 minutes each way on an NYC subway, so pity me.)

You know what skeeves me out?   Hearing people eat breakfast cereal.   Somehow, in my mind, I am trapped in their mouths with all that slop.   

OK, fine, but I thought mine was rather normal: I cannot stand the feel of corduroy. Any kind, thick or thin, rubbing it or even seeing someone wearing it totally freaks me out. My skin is crawling just thinking about it. Eww.

How abouit seersucker?    What IS that stuff?  It seems unearthly.   

Also one of the main reasons I dislike reading books is because I have to touch and hold the covers open and turn the pages. In 11th grade English we had to read 15 books over summer before class began. It was torture for me. I would lay on the floor and hold the book open with a blanket or lay something heavy on across the top. It was easier once I got into the middle of the book and the bindings would give way some. The worst book cover ever though was The Catcher in the Rye. It had this slightly rough texture to it like some really fine sand paper. I so vividly remember that feel. Yay craziness.

I would like to remind all readers that we are hearing from high-functioning adults considered sane by their  society.  

I can't stand licking wood ice cream sticks.

Wow!  a second!  

I can't drink out of them. Glass and plastic are fine. But please no ceramics. Also, I can't touch hair that's not attached to the body. This was a particular problem when I was working as a housekeeper.


I cannot take styrofoam out of a cardboard box (like when you buy a piece of electronic equipment like a TV and it is packed in formed solid styrofoam inside the box). Like nails on a chalkboard. I also cannot stand cardboard rubbing against itself; assembling moving boxes is pure torture.

Yay!  You're insane! 

When I'm at a pool and my hands are wet, I can't stand to touch dry concrete (that typically surrounds the pool). I have to splash the edge with water before I can put my hands on the side of the pool to pull myself out. Gives me shudders just thinking about it.

This is simply jawdropping, in toto. 

Wooden things in mouth: Tongue depressors, popsicle sticks, those silly flat ice-cream spoons that come with the cheap ice cream cups.


I do not like handling chalk either - the sound and the feeling or it. yuck. The sound of cotton balls being ripped apart literally sends me to the floor. My roommate in college used to come up behind me and rip them in my ear as a joke. To the floor I went, every time. just thinking about it is giving me goosebumps....

I wonder if there is a gender bias for this.   Are we hearing mostly from men or women? 

I LOVE the feeling of cold flat objects against my forehead. So whenever I'm in an elevator alone, I press my forehead against the metal door or the mirror. Then spend the next several floors trying to polish off my faceprint.

You are a total loon. 

Okay, we are done for the update.   See you all Next Week for our regular monthly chat.   


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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2008 and 2010.

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