ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Jan 07, 2014

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

Great Scott!

Apologies, folks! Were I a time traveler today, I think we know where my first stop would have been!

How are you holding up in the Polar Vortex?

I have to type this fast before my fingers freeze onto the keyboard... Old Spice's ad seems to be targeting the subset of teenage boys who have controlling moms with issues. I can easily imagine these mothers in a few years in power struggles with their daughters-in-law, and can also imagine Old Spice using that for a sequel to this ad. What if Chanel used the same theme, showing fathers lamenting their daughters finding boyfriends? What does it say about me, or about society, that the reversal would seem far creepier? Is that because for much of human history, daughters were regarded as family property to be handed over from father to husband?

Yes, that sounds like it might be why.

Male offspring, on the other hand, you can just grab up whenever a shipment falls off the back of a truck, without having to fill out any forms. "Polar Vortex Causes Hundreds of Injuries as People Making Snide Remarks About Climate Change Are Punched in Face Posted by Andy Borowitz"

Andy Borowitz? What are you doing in the chat? Don't you have typing to do?

Polar Vortex is just the latest. There must be a list somewhere in a classified file cabinet. They always seem to have a new name ready for whatever comes along. Or is that evidence that the Administration is really causing the weather?

I always knew they were behind it!

That name file really is impressive. Polar Vortex? Arctic Outbreak? Every so often they could sell one to a manufacturer of especially minty gums.

glad you're here! in OKC, on the outer fringes of the Vortexnado. approx 7 to 30 degrees depending on time of day

Wow, that sounds incredibly frigid!

Stay indoors! Fix some cocoa!

This is definitely Petriesque.

That's a compliment! I really enjoyed the piece!

Also, life's too short to wear a watch that creatively misspells "ticker."

But if Stephen Hawking sent the invitations to his time traveler party after the party occurred, wouldn't he have known that nobody would show up? So wouldn't he have decided to save the postage/advertising costs, and not bothered to send out any invitations? So of course no one would have shown up; they didn't know about it!

Another tricky part of throwing a party for time travelers is that horrible thing everyone knew Stephen was bound to say midway through the party that alienated Karen so much.

When I worked for the Defense Dept., I had a colleague tell me solemnly that it was really neat the way the Operation Name computer just randomly spat out perfect titles like Desert Shield. He actually believed this.

Huh. Well, I'm sure he had many other charming qualities and I hope his job kept him away from important buttons.

They had me at "derecho!"

They're masters. They know when to sound like a gum and when to sound like a coffee and when all you need is just a portmanteau with "snow" buried in it somewhere.

The Weather Channel is HORRIBLE about this now. Every minor rain fall gets named. That storm from last Thursday night was called Winter Storm Hercules. Really? How pathetic.

Why not Winter Storm Antaeus? The snow actually touched the ground!

It's spelled correctly in Swedish, and the inventor is Swedish.

That is indeed a mitigating circumstance.

it's barely gonna make it into the 60s here in SF/Oakland

Oh boooooo. Go inside and fix yourself some cocoa.

Every minor snowfall gets called a "storm," too. News flash, media meteorologists: just because it's snowing doesn't mean it's a blizzard.

And just because it isn't snowing at all doesn't mean ICY DESTRUCTION DAVE IS IMMINENT.

Unfortunately, when you travel in time you also travel 150,000 miles from your starting point. So I can't prove it to anyone.

Whoops, that would put a bit of a wrinkle in your time travel. How did you get back?

It does sound like a frothy drink name. Now I want a chocolate/coffee milk shake from Dairy Queen!

Good idea! Just trek over to one, ask for a Polar Vortex, and see what they serve you. I bet there's something.

Maybe they can only go back in time up to 100 years, and time travel won't be invented for 150 years. Keep looking!

See, this is why we need to legalize and nationalize time travel. Right now it's the exclusive province of time tourists, rich eccentric billionaires, and scientists who won't even bother to show up at parties. But what about the rest of us who want to take the time travel equivalent of a greyhound bus to, say, 1980?

When he said that nobody ever does anything about the weather. People were doing something about the weather, and had been for about a century. They were burning fossil fuels!


That is "something."

I didn't go. I sent my ex.

That would do it.


Well, if it was I, I'd go back 100 years, then go back 100 more and.... And I'd start posting things before they happened, starting in 2014.

I was thinking about how you'd get currency that was above suspicion, and that would definitely require some trips. First you'd have to go back to whenever all your bills said they were from and exchange them for bills that were from an earlier date, then repeat that, until you got back to where you needed to be. Assuming your goal was never to use "future" currency. Unless anyone can think of a quicker way?

I think it might have been Robert Heinlein (very talented but somewhat creepy science fiction writer from quite a while ago) who said in one of his books that time travel was going to wreak havoc with grammatical tenses. Discuss.

I wish there were some way of keeping the pluperfect out of this, but I think it's where some of the worst damage is going to take place.

"Time travel equivalent of a Greyhound bus"? No, thanks. That means I'd have to sit for hours next to a sketchy person with questionable personal hygiene habits and a terrible compulsion to share his or her theory as to how "they" are controlling everything we do. And who wants to go to 1980, anyway? Maybe it would have some appeal to someone who wasn't born until 1982, but as for me, I'd rather go to 2414 and see what's going on 400 years from now.

Aw, where's your desire for a cheap day trip? We can't all visit the cool happening destinations and see the future cars every time.

I'd just bring a credit card. It only has an expiration date on it.

Oh, that's so much easier! Until you get back to where you need 1830s dollars and you're waving a piece of valueless plastic at a bemused mule driver.

Some things were always valuable and didn't have dates. Gold, jems, etc. That's what you bring when travelling back. Then, purchase something from "history" and bring it forward. It's rare, old, and in mint condition. Sell it, buy gold, go back in time, repeat.

Oh, that's much more efficient.

Then again, once time travel goes mainstream and becomes legal and safe, the economics of valuing old things are going to be very different, and probably the most happening year/location destinations are going to suffer some serious inflation from the influx of future-money.

But I think I'd rather have a transporter than a time machine. If I beam across the country and the machine breaks, I know they can get parts. If I go back 1000 years.... Especially if I need plutonium.

No, I don't want a transporter until we figure out if you kill yourself and create a copy with your memories at your destination every time you step into the machine. You laugh, but there was a Family Guy about this.

Why there and then? "For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. " Good American answer?


Beautiful answer. Just don't whisper it to a Fitzgerald ancestor when you're back there.

The Polar Vortex has always been there, it just decided to pay a visit. It is actual meteorological term. Just because it sounds awesome doesn't mean it's made up media hype. Look up "bombogenesis" for another good one.

No, I realize this! It usually winters over Baffin Island, right? Only this year it gained strength and came venturing south.

Michael Milken has already made billions off time travel. He's just smart enough to keep it a secret.

Finally, an explanation of Wall Street's recent dealings that I understand and makes immediate sense!

if you could put anything in your time travel satchel, what would you bring. if you went back in time 400 years, would you bring medicine? a tooth brush?

Far enough back, I'd bring a domesticated animal with me, because hey, protection and companionship. Closer, I think I'd bring medicine, toothbrush, toothpaste, a towel, and something to read. It might also be worth bringing an outfit that would allow me to pass as a man, if we're getting into the centuries where you get passed off from father to husband and can't leave the house.

European man, certainly. Not "man."

It's a Fitzgerald quote! Cut the European man some slack.

Although, fair point.

Not the last time. I bet Neil Armstrong felt exactly the same way.

I bet that would be a popular destination, time-travel-wise.

Yes, it will take a huge amount of invention to come up with a time machine, but if they become common DC Parking Enforcement will always be one step ahead.

Hah! "Ma'am when you parked your car here this morning, it was a buggy."

I would bring my glasses, because my contact lenses wouldn't last a day.

Oh, good call! Maybe bring a couple of pairs to avoid any Piggy From Lord of the Flies or World Enough And Time Twilight Zone Guy problems.

it has an interesting take on this issue.

No, but I'll have to check it out! What's the general thesis, or does it only make sense in full-length form?

Did anyone see that one, where the world was pretty much flooded, very little land, and the most precious commodity was ... paper.

I thought the most precious commodity was postmen.

Oh, never mind, that's the other apocalyptic Kevin Costner.

Also, is "the Postman" supposed to be a play on post-man because if so I just got that right now.

When piles of Ugg boots block the door And Jade the intern shows some nip, When rills of roadsand scuff the floor And lattes cool before you sip. When schools close down, and fares go higher Then non-stop sings the city crier It’s two, It’s two, it’s two, and wind chill worse And under every breath a curse, When all around the Gore-Tex blooms And escalators clank and groan, And trains are silenter than tombs And orange ice fills each traffic cone, When even Smokey wants a fire Then non-stop sings the city crier It’s two, It’s two, it’s two, and wind chill worse And under every breath a curse.

So, er, "pretty cold," is what I'm hearing here.

How about going to December 9999 to see what happens when all the world's computers have to change from 4-digit years to 5-digit years?

If it's anything like Y2K, I'll be... very disappointed. You can watch the launch, weather permitting, from the DC area.


Come on, weather! Permit!

I am not becoming a singularity.

"Ehh, I'll be fine! I doubt my ancestors would be my type!"

Famous last words, probably.

In the short story "Built Up Logically," a character built a time machine but it moved the whole universe forwards/backwards in time so you couldn't tell, even if you looked at the position of the stars.

Did this lead to a lot of arguments about whether it was working?

Can I just say how much I love, love, love Tuesdays on WashPo? There's you, Weingarten in some form (usually), Gene Robinson, the Grammar Guy, and Aaron (The Fix Jr?) on politics. No wonder I can't get anything done!

Tuesdays are my favorite too! Glad to be part of the crop!

Whenever I want to figure out what I should be doing with the rest of my life, I lie on my living room couch and think. I always fall asleep. I am no closer to the answer, but I've had some pleasant naps.

A nap is seldom wasted time. Unless you're on the job, I guess, although if caught you could try to claim that you were trying an innovative sleep strategy where you divided the hours into smaller blocks of sleeping and waking. I think there was some CEO who did or does this. 

"None. He holds the light bulb and waits for the universe to revolve around him."

Ha, good! The chat wouldn't be complete without a lightbulb joke!

If you are traveling into the future, as opposed to back in time, there is a solution. It was in a TV series quite a few years ago about bad guys who robbed a bank and then were somehow transported to the present day. They tried to buy something with one of their gold coins and were directed (by an honest merchant) to an old coin dealer. They trade in all their old, mint coins and were set for life.

No, the future's easy! Even regular money works well forwards, until you hit the end of a civilization or other currency-redefining bump in the road.

None, they just wait for the invisible hand.

I've also heard "How many invisible people does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "I don't know." "Don't worry, neither does anyone else!"

said the man who went from 1863 to 2063 with a pocket full of confederate money.

Hey, there are probably some places that would proudly take that.

It led to the narrator leaving the room while the inventor's daughter playfully thrust the universe forwards and backwards a million years. It's an interesting story (Schoenfeld, I think the author's name was) but a bit weak in spots.


I'll have to look it up! Thanks for the recommendation.

Has anyone proposed a solution to the idea that the Earth is hurtling through space? If you time travelled wouldn't you end up really far from the Earth? If you're really unlucky maybe close to or in a star.

True! You'd have to compensate for it somehow in the calculations or you could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova and that'd end your trip real quick now wouldn't it?

Rod Serling had an Twilight Zone episode. Not time travel per se, but these gang of master theives do a big gold heist, hide in their cryonic vaults ( I don't think the word cryonics had been invented yet in the early 60's). When they wake up in the future, don't remember exact details, but their gold is useless to them b/c it has no value in the future. I always liked that episode b/c of the cool-looking cars in the future.

Oh, haven't seen it yet! That's a great concept!

All this talk of future cars reminds me of the Key & Peele sketch about vampires where one guy explains that he only allowed himself to be turned into a vampire "so I could see future cars." Which, hey, solid strategy!

... it was just me coming from the future and using my credit card. Wonder where in the future I'm going to put that 90" flat screen I got last month. Guess I'll wait till a mortgage company calls me for payment on the new house I'm buying soon

I'm immensely enjoying this Logistics of Time Travel chat, but I might have to skedaddle off into the future soon. If you want to keep chatting, just skip through time to next week's chat as though 'Click' with Adam Sandler taught you nothing.

You think only one of us got it? What exactly do you think of when you picture your Constant Reader?

No, that was delight, not surprise. I know you folks!

It all depends on the context...


String Theory posits that time travel is likely, but only while you are playing a violin.

And on that note -- BADUMSHHH -- I'm off. Have a splendid Tuesday, keep reading the Compost (I'm back now so there will be things to read every weekday!) and feel free to join me on Twitter! And enjoy your travels through time!

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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