ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Jul 09, 2013

Join us next Tuesday to laugh, cry, and dish about the moments that amused you, shocked you, or caused you to yell things that frightened the other people on the subway.

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Connect on Twitter: @PostLive | @petridishes

Hello, all! Happy Tuesday! 

I have often considered my minor super-power would be that I would be able to see, floating above people's heads, the number of the years they have to live. Would this be a curse or a blessing? You'd want to tell the 0 people to live life to the fullest, and the 90 people to do some skydiving and bull-riding. But would they listen?

First, and at the risk of sounding like an '80s comic, what's the deal with sky-diving? Why is it that people insist that Everyone Must Sky-Dive Before He Dies? I have almost no desire to sky-dive, and I think I'd feel that I was living to the fullest if I actually sat down and finished Madam Bovary, but it's one of those things that everyone seems to think is a sign that you're Really Drinking Life To The Lees There, Cowpoke. 

Now bull-riding, or bull-running-with, on the other hand, might be sort of fun...

Also, I've been thinking a lot about minor superpowers lately. I think a good weird underrated one would be the ability to fill out any form correctly. Correctly, as in, you understand that Byzantine bit of instruction on Page 7 about collating, but also correctly in that, if the form in question were, say, the SAT, you'd get a perfect score. Yours would probably be helpful if you were in the medical line, although you could argue that your telling the doctor "Oh, he's at 0, don't bother operating" actually was what put him at 0...

I use to block ads and pop-ups, all over the Internet, not just the Post. It's free and it works. Also,every 3-4 days I get a pop-up from the Wapo saying I've used up 3 of my 20 free views. Always 3, never 2, never 4. I think it's because I've programmed my computer to clear the cookies file every time I shut it down, so it can't track me. (I would pay if I couldn't get things for free, by the way.)

"I would pay if I couldn't get things for free" is one of those codes of the high Internet seas.

When fulminating about oldsters getting in my way, I was informed that the proper epithet is now Wrinklies?

I've heard that before, but I'm not sure I subscribe to it. Then again, you can get it for free, so why subscribe? Heyo. 

Thanks for your Rick Perry post. He should run if only to let everyone know he finally figured out that third agency to get rid of. He should insist, though, that in debates he only be limited to lists no higher than two. After all, he only has to hands.

And two feet, but one's usually in-mouth, so it's difficult to pin down and count.

Alexandra, I think YOU should hop a plane to London and cover the Royal Baby birth for WaPo. Someone has to, and besides, it'll be a nice change of pace from DC, and you get to rack up the ol' expense account. Also, you could demonstrate what would happen if Shakespeare were alive today and doing journalism work on the side while writing plays as his true calling, what questions he'd ask, etc. The live blog of the Royal Birth would be captivating.

I'd be down for this! Also, the time zone difference would allow me to Win The Morning!

Also can we talk about names, because I hear the rumor that the designated name might be Alexandra, and while flattering, it will ruin my Google standings forever. 

I'd skydive withut a chute, or run with the lions, or something. But I guess it doesn't tell you if you have 90 years of random sex or 90 years in a hospital bed.

Or 90 years of random sex in a hospital bed, if that's what you're into. 

I'd like to be able to read people's minds, but only for the first minute or so after we meet. I have a reason for wanting to know their first impression.

What would happen if number-over-the head person looked in the mirror? My choice for a minor super power (mediocre power?) would be to prevent people who zip by you in the right lane as their lane is ending from being able to merge in when they reach front until they're 20 cars behind you.

That could be a problem if the count were presented digital-style and you had 25 -- or is that 52? -- displayed above you. 


Sleep with my eyes open and mouth closed.

For some reason I was picturing this as replacing your default sleep state and I thought "That's a terrible power and would really creep out your wife/husband/cat! Or maybe you just really fear spiders creeping mouth-wards at night?" and then I realized it was for meetings. 

Rick Perry should promise, if elected, to release the Roswell Files. Probably pick up a lot of Ron Paul supporters.

I think Kate will have a girl. Alexandra would indeed be a lovely name, but Kate can also go with Star Wars royal names like Princess Leia or Amidala.

Exactly! Leia's a good one initially, but for the long haul Amidala has a much bigger payoff. 

I'd like to extend that to "bovine riding." That way I could ride a cow. I like to start off slow.

Bovine Tipping?

That sounds, to me, like an old-timey old-family name ("This is my uncle, Bovine Tipping V.") but maybe this just indicates that I'm not as plugged in to This Town as I should be. 

The ability to create "danger music" whenever there is a villian around or a natural disaster or a plane crash or zombies or whatever circumstances may jeopardize my safety... Brad Pitt had it!

Oh, that would be great! 

Danger would start, like you'd be jogging alone late at night and suddenly you'd hear "REEEE REEEE REEEE," effectively forewarning you, and could go diving to safety. It would be even better if no one else could hear the music. 

A man is at the doctor and the doctor says "I have bad news. You have a fatal disease and not long to go." The man says "how long?" The doctor says "ten." The man says "ten years? Ten months?" and the doctor says "nine."

That joke has taken years off my life.

If Kim Youknowwho can name her daughter North West, then I fear Kate can go retro and name her daughter Princess Phone, if only to make the British press scurry to their tablets and google the term to find out what a princess phone was.

I liked that twist at the end there!

Or... Bride? That might be weird though. 

I catch the reruns on Hallmark Channel every so often when there's nothing else on. I want to encourage others to take another look at this gem from yesteryear. If you can get past the truly hideous outfits (seriously, I came of age in the '80s & don't remember anything this bad on anyone's grandmother), you'll find the writing and acting are really outstanding. And much of the dialogue is so un-PC, I wonder if it would get through today. Thank you for letting me air this public service announcement.

Who doesn't love Golden Girls? You are very far from alone in this, I think!

" Compared to General Longstreet, General Ewell the night prior was absolutely raring at the bit. " Raring at the bit? Maybe you were thinking of chomping to go.

Chomping to go is what it is. 

As I think Ring Lardner  said, I don't like to split infinitives. I like to chop them up in little pieces. 

If they watched reruns of "Keeping Up Appearances" with Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket -- "Bouquet"!!! -- they'd already know what a slimline princess phone was.

"Lady of the house speaking!" 

(Speaking of great shows!)

I actually have one. It is the ability to look at any hex-topped screw and figure out which hex wrench you need. I do not know why fate chose to grant me this power. But a darkness is coming, and me and some correctly-chosen hex wrenches are all that stand between it and improperly-tightened bolts.

These are dark times, and we must all rally to the aid of the party!

Does anyone else have one? I think some of these are just forms of luck, but I'm curious!

I think the only thing that would frighten people on the typical subway on a typical day would be the announcement that they were filming yet another remake of The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3.

The horror! The horror!

Also I thought of another superpower: adjusting your height every morning. Could be a clothing problem, but definite advantages if you know you're about to go to a sporting event or something.

My wife can kneel down and pluck a four-leaf clover in the amount of time it takes to read this sentence. As in, if you present her a patch of clover one foot-square or larger, she will find a four-leaf one in about half a second. Every time. She has been trying to figure out how to make money off this for years, with no luck. But it's definitely something.

That's incredible! Is she good at pattern recognition? Surely there are applications!

Luck that is that consistent has to be a superpower.

But that's like an omega-level minor superpower. Everyone else can only do one thing well, and you've got an all-situation-useful ability. 

I have one already. I'm a man-reader. I can spot the bad ones the minute I meet them (liars, cheats, etc.). I'm particularly good at spotting the dangerous ones. I've only met a handful, but all of them game me flaming heebie-jeebies and later ended up in jail. If only I could market this gift somehow.

That's incredible! I had a power like that, but instead of getting flaming heebie-jeebies I would try to date them. 

A friend has the power to win games she's never played before, like last week's monopoly match. Told her she needs to go to Vegas, maybe she could make some real money before they ban her from the casinos.

That sounds like omega-level beginner's luck. 

Parking spaces leap out of nowhere in incredibly crowded places for her. Seriously, if you take her shopping in mid-afternoon on Black Friday, a parking space at the mall will open up right next to the one store she plans to visit. She also finds four-leaf clovers with incredible frequency. Unfortunately neither of these powers has turned out to be hereditary.

That parking lot power is incredible. I wish I had that. I only have the power where the wider the spot is and the easier to pull into, the more likely I am to somehow irreparably damage the rental car in pulling in. 

That's my superpower. The moment the villain walks onto the screen, I always know that he did it, and then I say so. Which makes me very popular, as you can imagine.

I have a friend like you! 

"The Spoiler" would be a good name if you ever decide to go full super. 

And, as Raymond Chandler wrote to his publisher, "when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split."

My other power is misattributing quotations, then complaining about it when others do it!


I have one, but I don't want it. I can turn the upcoming light red. And it's not just timing. I can come off the beltway to a light at the end of the exit ramp and it will ALWAYS turn red just as I get to it. On the other hand, there never seems to be a car in the right lane when I merge onto a highway, so I guess it's a good tradeoff.

You could probably use this power to save children who strayed into the street, but what a hassle!

Is to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I've been following rainbows for years, but someone always beats me to it.

You could try to sell maps, maybe? I remember reading a Berenstein Bears where they did that.

Are you working on the disassembly/reassembly of Calder's "Gwenfritz" sculpture? That item in this morning's WashPost fascinated me.

Well, ARE you?

Have one what? If you mean hex wrenches, I have a set, and a full set of screwdrivers too. If you mean super powers, minor or not, the answer is no. BUT, a tour driver I have enjoyed several tours with in Britain says he wants a third eye, placed at the end of a finger, sop he could unobtrusebly (sp) look over his shoulder or check to see what/s on the top of very tall cabinets or under things like sofas.

Ew, but imagine eating french fries with an eye on your finger. 

I have two. One: I can see in the dark. Well, not if it's REALLY dark, but I find that the light provided by the "power off" light behind the TV, the charging light on my Kindle, and the little light in a smoke detector is more than sufficient to make my way to the bathroom, dress, etc. Two: I have bat-like hearing, which enables me to hear peoples' plastic pens squeak when they twist them. Unfortunately, no one else can hear this, so my co-workers think I'm actually insane since on occasion, in the middle of meetings, I suddenly put my hands over my ears and scream "stop that squeaking!"

Wait, are you a bat? 

I see nothing in this post to dissuade me from this belief. 

The "knowing how long people have to live" power was the subject of a Heinlein short story, "Life-Line" published in 1938. In the end the hero is murdered by an insurance company hit man.


Perfect pitch. Handy for singing a capella before the accompanying instrumentalists come in, or for tuning tympani.

You know what real-life superpower I'm really jealous of? Synesthesia. 

I bet Eric Snowden wishes he had the minor superpower to have something other than subtitled 80s reruns on the hotel TV and bad room service food.

I don't know, that sounds like an idyllic week or two...

Extraordinary sensitivity to sound is called misophonia.

Now we're sort of leaking from superpowers into problematic conditions, although you could argue that one could be viewed as the other. Like, Superman wants to shave a single time without doing weird laser-eye things, but he physically can't, right?

So it's not actually "seeing" in the dark, it's echolocation? Hmm, hadn't thought of that . . .


That makes me hear red....

That makes me taste bacon!

I also have the seeing in the dark superpower! Very handy and energy efficient. The flip side is that if it is bright out and I do not have sunglasses, I can barely keep my eyes open. I have to then walk forward a few feet at a time with my eyes closed before quickly peeking to make sure I am not about to run into something. I have many pairs of sunglasses.

I have the modified form of night vision where you can slip around without bumping into things, but I inevitably step on the noisy board. 

just chiming in

Join the Clubs! 

(Ennnh, they're ALMOST clubs...)

...if she does it by the use of danger music...

You mean the blasting dubstep?

Uh, really? But what about the older folks who aren't really wrinkly (sp?) or those younger folk who are wrinkly??

Or bulldogs?

Really it all comes down to good skin care.

I have ESP. Now, now --- I know what you're thinking.....

As long as you don't have my metadata. 

Wait a year. See if it says something that's definitely 24 or something that looks like 15 and then you'll know. And you know you'll live out the year.

This is, in fact, a good practical solution!

I don't know why Brits are betting on Alexandra for the baby's name. Seems much more likely, to me, to be Elizabeth. Then again, in a family that picks names like Beatrice and Eugenie and Zara, all bets, so to speak, are off.

I forget they had a Zara. How about United Colors of Benetton to keep her company?

Another Briticism making its way over here. "Wrinklies" appeared in "The Sloane Ranger Handbook" more than 30 years ago.

So the term itself is an, er, mature member of society. 

Ok, I think I'll start calling 20-somethings "Entitlelies" or maybe just "Give Me Postive Feedbackies." Oh wait, that might be somewhat offensive and wrong to use a derogatory term to refer to those not like me. Silly me. Wrinklies. So so (not) funny!

Give Me Positive Feedbackies is sort of a mouthful, but if you're willing to commit to it, go right ahead. 

The term has been around a while, though. 

What sandwich is next on your quest?

What sandwich SHOULD be next on my quest?

My superpower would be knowing the exact date and time that all heirs to thrones would be born. What about the gender? Nah, we have ultrasounds for that. (The scan for Will and Kate showed the baby wearing a tiny coronation robe.)

It's alarming to think that we'll have more-than-cradle-to-grave familiarity with this person. Royals and celebrity babies are forming a weird class of "guiltless" celebrities -- pre-famous, without asking for it -- that is certainly strange to watch. But North West won't be required to make public appearances to open hospitals for the rest of her days. 

Um, I believe the term is "whippersnappers"

Of course! Rolls off the tongue, too!

Isn't that sort of like the dog who chases a car, but wouldn't know what to do with it if he ever caught one? Assuming a person isn't so superstitious as to actually believe in good luck symbols, of course...

Speaking of getting of my lawn, you durn kids, I might skedaddle shortly! Speak now or forever hold your superpowered peace!

May I suggest a pleasant afternoon with the Quote Investigator?

Ooh, this is definitely relevant to my interests! Thank you!

I want the power to immediately cause problems or discomfort for "bad" metro riders. Able bodied people using the escalators at Ballson? You trip every time you exit the elevator. Lean on the panels near the door? Panels magically disappear and you fall to the floor. Pole leaner? Electric shock (really hate these people). It is probably good I don't have this superpower...

Do you mean the escalators or the elevators?

Otherwise, I'm with you on this Justice For Bad Riders concept. 

My daughter has the superpower of winning the big stuffed animals at carnival games. One time, she caused management to close a game and audit the number of big prize ducks floating in the tub as she won 5 large in a row.

I hope she continues to use this power for sawdust-stuffed-banana-winning good rather than evil! 

D'oh, I meant elevators. Kind of have to take the escaltors! My bad.

I was wondering! I thought I was an offender in your eyes!

It seems sex scandals don't prevent one from running for office in New York. I wonder how a convicted criminal would do. I mean Eugene V. Debs and Lyndon LaRouche both ran for president from a prison cell. Maybe Mark David Chapman could run (is he still around?).

The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. The problem with karma is that you have to wait for it, by which time the Bad Rider is long gone. what we'd really like to see is Instant Justice For Bad Riders.

Instant Karma's gonna get you, by the late great John Lennon, would be a great theme song for the TV show as well. 

I worked up a set of heroes with dubious abilities and my favorite was Foresight. He could see into the future but only in 5 second intervals.

I APPEAR able-bodied but alas am not. It roils my innards whenever I get dirty looks from people who wonder why I'm taking an elevator instead of climbing stairs. Grrr....

And there's this too. 

Presumably correctly applied karma would handle this, though.

Actually, these are not particularly uncommon traits. I am able to navigate an unknown hotel room, for example, in pretty complete darkness without trouble. I also think that perhaps it's not that your senses are better, but rather that you are more aware of your surroundings than some other folks. People who tend to notice things around them more are more likely to have excellent hearing; night vision probably falls into a similar category.

Yeah, from the sheer number of people in this chat alone who claim that power, I would venture it's less super than we suppose. 
That, or we've got a minor-league never-bumping-into-furniture-and-saving-the-earth justice league on our hands.

I can write comments that evoke a blank response from you!

As Coolidge would say, "No, you can't!"

I liked yesterday's Google Doodle. I think it was Richard Feynman who said UFO nuts told him more about the irrationality of terrestrial life than about the rationality of extra-terrestrial life. That might also describe Big Sandwiches.

And on that note, have a great week! 

Keep reading the Compost, feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I promise not to plug my play TOO much, oh, and come see "Tragedy Averted," the play I wrote in Capital Fringe, where Shakespeare's tragic heroines go to camp and fix their lives! 

Enjoy the week!

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost, a lighter take on the news and issues of the day, and she contributes to the Post editorial page. Her work has appeared in venues such as The Huffington Post, The Week,,, Collegehumor, and The Harvard Crimson. She has appeared on Jeopardy!, Showbiz Tonight and Canadian radio, and she has performed at Boston's Comedy Studio and Comedy Connection. She would love to be on your TV show, radio show, Daily Show, HBO special, or to be an honored guest (or regular guest) at your Bar Mitzvah. She is the author of two books (unpublished, but contact her!), two screenplays, three plays, one musical, and one memoir (Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.)
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