ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Oct 29, 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

Happy National Cat Day, everyone!

Sadly DC is not one of the cities where Uber is delivering kittens between the hours of 11 and 4 today -- but maybe we can wangle something.

I haven't been impressed with the human offerings, and since corporations are people, I'd like to try dating one. Do you have any suggestions? I'm thinking of asking out Yum! Brands. We could have Taco Bell one night, KFC the next, Pizza Hut on the weekends, and Long John Silver's on Friday.

That sounds like a good arrangement. I've never been to Long John Silver's, but that's probably for the best given that I am in a committed relationship with the other seafaring corporation, Starbuck('s). Literature and coffee -- and these weird pastry squares with cheese in them that they're slowly beginning to roll out but that are delicious -- what more does one require?

I want to become a know-it-all. How can I tell if I have acquired enough knowledge to start monopolizing Thanksgiving conversations? Do you have to know a lot about one thing, or can pontificate on a wide range of topics?

I think the first trick is to start referring to yourself as an "autodidact polymath" (or "polymath autodidact") and then anyone who remains in the conversation has automatically given you free rein to pontificate on almost any subject.

I think know-it-all's are by definition generalists, not specialists, but I could be wrong.

Now that the War of 1812 celebrations are fizzling like a leftover firecracker, I am looking forward to celebrating the Monroe Doctrine. Do you have any suggestions? Sitting in my front lawn in a tricorn hat holding a sign that reads "You European kids get off my continent?"

James Monroe knew what was what! Maybe prop up an old post-chaise (post-chaise? cabriolet? sedan chair? I am not very good on my carriage dating) on the lawn for added impact.

How about Sexy Lucubrate?

Well, there are ones that collapse under the weight of their own contradictions like overexuberant cakes, and then there are ones that work surprisingly well. A friend was telling me about a brilliant sexy Simone de Beauvoir...

Is this one of those made up Hallmark holidays like Bosses Day or Grandparents Day? My cats Max and Tucker are unlikely to be touched by the purchase of a card or bauble from Precious Moments.

Don't forget Administrative Professionals day!

Alternatively, celebrate by showing your cats the released-today X-Men: Days of Future Past trailer and asking their opinion on it.

You and The Fix (who is addicted to Pumpkin Spice Lattes) really ought to enter into some sort of endorsement arrangement with Starbucks. I'll bet your new boss would be impressed with your attempts to leverage your salaries with outside funding. (that's all we hear at universities these days)

But then whenever I write an overwrought panegyric to the Starbucks seasonal offerings, everyone would call me a sellout, instead of what they call me now "a sad idiot to give away such lavish praises without any remuneration."

With that diet, you might want to see Kaiser or Blue Cross-Blue Shield on the side.

Jerry! Jerry!

Go for Renaissance man. People seem to dismiss someone as a "know it all" but revere them as "Renaissance men." You don't have to remind them that a Renaissance man is someone who knows everything but for the 15th century.

He's well versed in leeches, Latin, architecture, and alchemy!

Man, alchemy. What a colossal waste of intellectual effort that was.

This must be a much harder vocation to pursue than in the past. Now when you bloviate about something, there is surely someone in the crowd who whips out a smartphone (!!) and looks up a web-based fact to contradict whatever pronouncement you've issued.

And even when you successfully brandish your own web-based fact, sometimes Rachel Maddow calls you out on it.

I almost have it! I am SO close!

That's the trouble with it! So many great minds sitting there reciting runes to crucibles! We could have had electricity centuries earlier!

Really? Wow. OK, let's talk about cats. I have a cat in need of a farm placement. She's not able to survive on the street any more, but she is too feral to be happy living in the house with people. Anyone know a rescue that might be able to help her?

Any chatters with leads?

Alchemy proved that you can't turn lead into gold. However, you can turn lead into homunculi.

Wasn't there a book for children published in the past decade or two titled "A Chemy Called Al"? I think it was the secret to "A Gebra Named Al."

[Googles this quickly]

Yes, there was! The Chemy Called Al.


Except for the whole leading to modern chemistry and the eventual transmutation of elements through particle accelerators thing. And Giordano Bruno being burnt at the stake, creating a martyr for science.

That's true. Maybe I was being a little harsh. But whenever I read about all the people with their spells and chants, even if they're incidentally learning interesting things about the properties of metal, it just makes me want to bang my head into something.

Once I have alchemy solved, I'll have all the gold I need. Then I can focus on my marvellous idea for a perpetual motion machine.

But isn't lead kind of expensive?

And then gold will become worthless because it ceases to be rare, and the world economy collapses.

That's why we will keep it a secret! That is why we have done with this information what I do with all my secrets -- post them on the Internet!

Suspiciously close to Halloween.

It must be its familiar!

Speaking of suspiciously close to Halloween, can we talk about the lengthy marathon that this halloween season is turning out to be? Or is this one of those hopelessly 20-something complaints?

or they find a web site that contradicts your pronouncement, but it's a site belonging to a wingnut conspiracy theorist (I guess that is redundant). "But it must be true! I saw it on the Internet!"

Someone really should combine a list of website fonts and layouts that invalidate that statement. "Sorry, your source is in Comic Sans. Eight pinocchios!"

Have a heart, they were using the only tools at their disposal. Save your contempt for people like Columbus, who thought he knew better than Eratosthenes how big the earth actually is.

But Ptolemy said -- and if it's on the Internet, it must be true!

I'll look for the cell phone number of Miss Utility, who showed up at our house just in time to rescue the groundhog that had been digging up our yard for months. The hog must have been waiting for little St. Francis of Assisi to show up because that's the day he landed in the Have-a-Heart trap we'd had out for months. She loves her job because it lets her rescue vermin--er, unwanted animals.

Do! Hey, some of my best friends are vermin!

OP, does this sound like a good tree up which to bark?

Would you rather have the Philosopher's Stone, a material that changes base metal into gold, or the Elixir of Life, which grants you immortality? Or perhaps the Unicorn Who Locates the DVD Remote?

I think maybe the Unicorn, just to cheer him up about how his skillset has grown decreasingly relevant since it stopped being 2004.

In honour of Cat Day, I have decided to let my cat do anything she wants to today. Unlike yesterday, when I required her to do, um, anything she wanted to.

That's the trouble with cats.

It's the only thing Isaac Newton and I have in common.

Unless you're also a lousy roommate who likes to trace equations on the sidewalk.

Who not only practiced alchemy when he wasn't devising the laws of motion, but also believed in a Bible code.

Okay, Newton, Newton, fair, fair, touche.

Didn't realize alchemy still had such vocal supporters.

My son wanted to know where Pinocchio's mom is. Have you got a good explanation?

Pinocchio is one of the fairy tales most easily rewritten as a horror story, and given that fairy tales include stories about wolves eating people (speaking of which, if you like horror fairytales, check out "In The Forest, She Grew Fangs" at Flashpoint! Speaking of unsponsored panegyrics!) this is saying something.

Seriously, creepy old woodcarver makes himself a wooden companion who just happens to be a small child who physically cannot lie without being detected?

And don't get me started on the Pleasure Island sequence.

Take the Philosopher's Stone and turn base metals to gold. Immortality is overrated and sucks. Sincerely, Connor MacLeod and Jesse Tuck.

And that one miserable toad who was like "What did I do to DESERVE this?"

Christopher Lee. No one will be able to guess. It covers so many possible characters.

Or Annabel Lee, if your prime criterion is that no one will be able to guess.

Their song "Same Road, Same Reason" transforms my mood to joyous whenever I listen to it. That has got to be worth something.

Ooh, I'll add that to my playlist!

Most of the cat-haters I've encountered seem to have control issues, where they're angry that the felines won't take commands. Has that been your experience? As someone who loves both dogs and cats, I say that a cat's independence is worthy of respect. Any honest dog lover would admit that canines are sycophants.

It's like that Churchill quote: "Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you. Give me a pig. He just looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal." 

At least, I think it was Churchill.

The discussion of alchemy made me wonder: If Marcel Marceau could change lead into gold, would you say he puts the "mute" in "transmutation"?


"Let's see, consumptive 13-year-old with creepy old husband...I know who you are!" Ever been to the Poe house in Baltimore? The docents are really defensive about stuff like that. "LOTS of people married their 13-year-old first cousins back then!" ""He did NOT die in the gutter. He was FOUND in a gutter and taken to a hospital where he died."


No, I haven't been! I need to go, that sounds amazing!

I never want to go to a health care operation named Kaiser. To me, that just seems one removed from a health care operation named Fuhrer.

I would definitely go to a health care operation named Archduke, though.

Especially if you are not also granted eternal youth. Sincerely, Tithonus.

It's always the one thing you don't ask for. I'm sure if he'd gotten eternal life and eternal youth he'd have been stuck in a room watching "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" for eternity, or some fate worse than that, not that I can think of a fate worse than that.

Would Dorian be a good name for him?

Dorian Greyhound!

Yes, please. Just don't commission any pictures of him.

Lists are being posted on the undesirable Halloween candy (from the trick or treat kids' viewpoint). Prominently mentioned were Bit O Honey, Good N Plenty, Smartees, and Tootsie Rolls. I purchased Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kat bars (celebrating National Cat Day a bit late), so no one will egg my house.

Excellent choices!

Also on the verboten list: those weird caramels with what appears to be paint dust in the middle, you know the ones I'm talking about, right?

Also on the Good list: candy corn, by far the best part of the holiday!


If there are still alchemists among us, I'd suggest they set aside the whole lead-into-gold pursuit and work on the transmutation of carbon dioxide into helium. We're generating too much of the former and running out of the latter, so it would help solve two problems.

And the atmosphere could turn hilarious quickly.

I think that was George Clooney, owner of a long-lived pot-bellied pig.

I did find it in three books of Churchill quotes. Even Kinky Friedman attributes it to him!

He's one of those historical figures you can attribute nearly any quote to. (Sorry, I meant: to whom you can attribute nearly any quote.) Nearly.

Including the quote "A preposition at the end of a sentence? Now that's a thing up with which I will not put!"

Given the choice, I'll take the Philosopher's Stone. With all my gold, I could buy additional remotes. And immortality is no good without a decent remote.

I feel like "Immortality is no good without a decent remote" would sell well as an embroided couch cushion. You should trademark it!

Those things are delicious.

But you knew exactly what I was talking about!

... or the transmutation of carbon dioxide and water vapor into hydrocarbons...

Whoa there, that's crazy talk!

I honor of National Cats Day, the buffet down the street will be, wait, that's not right.

To Serve Catkind

How about packs of glow sticks?

Okay, you are officially the best house on the route.

Someone brought a bunch of those weird halloween flavor jones sodas to the halloween party this weekend. The flavors seem like ones kids would like. The first dozen kids at my door on Thursday get soda to go with their candy!

I'm not sure this is the best place to get the word out to the kids, but: noted!!

My wife bought a couple packs of fluorescent pencils to give out a few years back. as well as (good) candy (reeses, kit kats, et al). I thought she was nuts - who goes trick-or-treating for pencils? Much to my surprise, almost half the kids opted for the pencils!!! What HAPPENED to America??? - space cadet

I think I might have gone for the pencil, too. The thing about candy is, once you have candy, the marginal utility of an added piece of candy starts to diminish compared to An Item You Could Always Have like a fluorescent pencil.

Thank you. In my office I am the witchy editrix with a red pen who insists that irregardless is not a word. As to Administrative Professionals Day, which used to be Secretaries Day - don't forget to get your administrative professional a nice gift. Especially if you want to avoid misdirected faxes, forgotten phone messages, etc.

(It falls on April 23 this year!)

Yes! Yes!! You wrote "criterion' rather than "criteria." Grammatically, you rock.

Aw, well, I guess I'd better go out on a grammatical high note.

Have a grand Tuesday, enjoy your Hallows'een, keep reading the Compost, and feel free to swing by my Twitter door.

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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