ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Jul 15, 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

Howdy all!

Sorry about the delayed started! I'm here now and ready to rumble! Let's do some would-you-rathers! It feels like that sort of a Tuesday.

First off:

Be the only person in a room made uncomfortable by a joke someone just told


Be the person who tells the joke that makes the rest of the room uncomfortable

Send in yours!

I do hope "Miss Emma's Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters" is performed more often at more venues, because we loved it. (We nearly missed it because of all the lane closures at Benning & H, though.)

Oh, hooray! You were so nice to come!

I took a Lyft to the theater and the driver described himself as "like The Transporter, my favorite movie" which was -- terrifyingly -- quite accurate. We swerved in front of a bus at one point! But we did make it.

death of the subjunctive? Or at least death of the subjunctive in English? I'm convinced I only know when to use it in English because it was a real thing in Spanish class. I don't remember an English teacher ever discussing it. Also, how was opening night, or was that opening afternoon?

Ah, the subjunctive! Would that it were in common usage, still! But that is a hopeless wish, and if only there were some way of expressing a hopeless wish, things would be much different.

When Andre the Giant was a kid in France and already well over 6 feet tall, Samuel Beckett would sometimes drive him to school in a pickup truck because he was too big for the bus. (Really!) Do you also plan to use your status as a celebrated playwright to do favors for children who are going to be famous someday?

That's so cool of Beckett! I would love to do favors for children who will be famous someday, provided the children could prove that they were bound for fame. Er, I mean, for all children. The children who didn't wind up famous would probably be nicer about it afterward.

Slash, if Andre the Giant had seen my driving, he'd have walked.

Speaking of Beckett, I really wanted to have Godot walk onstage in the middle of the play and announce "It's Godot! I am here! Oh no, what play is this?" but everyone wisely voted me down.

I feel bad for newspapers trying to make a go of it nowadays, but I am trying to make a go of it also and can't afford the $10 a month. I am not a stingy person. I just have alot of medical bills to catch up on. Your Tuesday chat is one thing I really miss taking part in. Sometimes, it is listed on the front page of the morning e-mail edition and I can join in live. The birds sing. The sun shines. I get a good laugh to get me through the day. How does it feel to be a Wapo asset that makes people want to pay to join?

SO good! Although now I'm trying to come up with $10 worth of chat. It reminds me of the advice I somehow absorbed (not sure where or how; it's not very good advice) to always write as though you were going to be hit by a bus. Nothing completely takes away any ability to write like the terror that you're going to be hit by a bus and that the next thing you say will be the last thing people see. You wind up typing ARRGH I DON'T KNOW



and then staring blankly at the screen a lot.

Wow, I can feel the chat depreciating already!


could be Desperados with Lyin' Eyes looking to Take It Easy and have a Tequila Sunrise at the Hotel California with a Witchy Woman.

That sign was great!

For anyone who wonders, here's the picture:

Get well soon, eagles!


be the person who's uncomfortable not getting the literary references in your play or the smug person who gets all of them but is obnoxiously smug about it?

Can't it be both? I'm always both. I always laugh smugly and too long at things that weren't intended to be jokes.

Are you familiar with If not, you should check it out. It lists Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post. Your secret is out, pretending to be writing as a Millennial. Although, I must say, you look terrific for your age. I am impressed.

Ha! How did that happen? Intelius thinks I'm 65. I am not 65 yet, although I hope to be someday!

They must have seen my old picture.

I do. "Condition contrary to fact" = "Wish I were here (which I am not)" is the most common use. "If I were you (which I am not), I would..."

Ah yes, the counterfactual!

You'd think that would be the only thing we used all the time, given most of the work of talking heads.

Well, that's too bad. I'd've loved that. Did you see last week's New Yorker cartoon, with the two bums sitting on the stage and one looks up from his smartphone to say, "It's Godot. He's running late."

Heh heh heh hur hur

*spills tea*

(This always seems like an appropriate response to New Yorker cartoons.)

I guess I'd rather be the one telling the joke, but only if it was because it was a cutting jibe that the room deserved, like some Wildean aphorism-spouting truth-teller. If it were just a really uncomfortable joke, I'd rather be an audience member, because years of being a wallflower have resulted in my blushing being more like a chameleon response, turning me invisible. Are we chaining these things? Is that how this works? Would you rather: Have your questioners give new Would You Rathers or Just keep them coming at us?

Umh, generate away! Ooh, we could chain them! If you answer one, you supply one! Unless that cut off the supply!

Here's another one:

Rather be a civilian (ie, non-superhero) in Batman's Gotham


a civilian in the Avengers' New York?

Being the only person made uncomfortable is definitely preferable to the other way around, because then you get all the agency to shun the people in the room for the rest of their lives, rather than everyone else getting the all the agency to shun you forever. Like George Costanza said, you gotta have hand.

True words, George. True words.

I had to keep turning around and glaring at the smug person sitting behind me who kept anticipating lines and saying them out loud. She finally shut up when I glared really hard and long.

I think I told the chat about this before, but the greatest theater-going experience I had was seated behind a guy who insisted on cheering each joke in "The Importance of BEing Earnest."

"No cucumbers to be had. Not even for ready money."


"To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness."


It was literally like that. It was great. I wonder if I can find and invite him to mine.

Sit slaunchways on the couch and talk football with your father-in-law, or be tied up in a croaker sack?

I don't know what "slaunchways" is but I can talk about football fine, and people who wind up tied in croaker sacks tend to, well, croak. If Brer Rabbit is anything to go on.

My favorite New Yorker cartoon was, ironically, in the Saturday Evening Post (yes, I'm that old). A guy was on his analyst's couch, and the caption read "And there's always one cartoon in the New Yorker that I just don't get!"

Sometimes I think they're deliberately drawn that way. There can't be someone out there who genuinely thinks they're all knee-slappers, can there?

Today I was at one of those places that serve Chinese food, subs, and fried chicken from behind bulletproof glass, waiting for my order and wondering if I should have asked for a half smoke with hot peppers instead, and a bunch of construction workers came in, one of whom said he didn't want anything but pineapple Rock Creek soda and mumbo sauce. I was thinking "if I described this to anyone it would sound like the most D.C. scenario possible" and then I thought how weird that would be to people for whom "D.C. scenario" means something out of "House of Cards" or whatever. I think there's a question for you in here somewhere.

This is a great transition question actually, because I just finish watching Season 2 of House of Cards, after months of pretending I knew how the thing ended. Frankly, I can't imagine how the cast go through the whole season without cracking up at some of the things they were asked to say. Nobody laughs on that show, ever! Nobody makes jokes! Sometimes Frank smiles, but only because he is thinking of something evil. It's such a joyless world. I guess if anyone ever made any jokes ever, the whole thing would come crashing down like a hous-- of

oh no, I didn't mean to.

You should have had Godot sing "I'm in the wrong STO-ry" from ITTW. (sayeth the Mysrterious Man...)

Thanks, Mysterious Man!

Ooh, how do we feel about this Disney Into the Woods? How bad is it going to be?

Argh. I'd've changed seats. I don't want people bellowing in my ear.

I meant to say he was in front of me! It wasn't in the ear, fortunately.

have a tail (like a fox tail that you can't tuck away) or be beautiful but have really horrible undisguisable breath? Or do the "or" bits have to relate somehow?

No, that's a good one. I think I'd go with the tail. It would be a good clue as to my moods. Then again, you'd have to date people who wanted to date someone with a tail, and that could put sort of a damper on things.

Recent movies made Gotham look really Chicago-y, which had me tending that way because of Chicago having much cheaper rent than New York in our universe. (I'm only barely keeping up with DC rent.) But then I don't know what all the superhero battles would do to the rental market in New York, compared to Gotham where Batman of course doesn't have superpowers. Could the Avengers and Travis Bickle coexist in a low-rent '70s New York but with cleaner subway cars (I can't stand getting spraypaint on my clothes on the way to work).

Why would you want to live anywhere that Travis Bickle livved? Travis Bickle is like Rorschach without the finely honed social skills.

One of the many things that coincide with your Tuesdays-at-11 timeslot is the open office hours of the New Yorker's cartoon editor, when any random person can wander in and show their cartoon portfolio for rejection while people like Roz Chast and S. Gross hang around. There are stories on the Internet about this from people who've tried it.


Oh man, I kind of want to try this.

Now all I need is a cartoon portfolio! Do they have to have captions on them already?

Sitting would be difficult.

That's true. Cats can manage it, but we aren't build like cats.

I'm still trying to figure out who pays for all the damage to office buildings and infrastructure from the first Avengers' battle in NY.

What I should have said is not a civilian but "an insurance agent."

You'd be set for life!

If you survived, that is.

Disney turning a dark, complicated story into a simple, happy one? That never happens!

No, but these days you have to turn every story into a fable about female empowerment and how true love's kisses don't mean what you think they mean! (See: Maleficent, Frozen)

Would you rather have that tail or spoons for thumbs?

Who wants spoons for thumbs? It would be being like the Lamest Wolverine Possible.

I'm relieved to see I'm not the only one who misses it. Now, if we can just get people to stop using "lay" when they mean "lie" or learn the difference between "it's" and "its," I can die happy.

AND a new one I've noticed, "I was sat." "I was already sat in the bar" or "I was sat waiting." No. You weren't sat. Nobody was sat. Stop saying you're sat.

"NSA Surveillance"LIVE: do you think its being monitored by the NSA? Of course, all WP chats may be monitored already.

Hi, NSA!

Come see my play!

Seen it? Want to see it? I have a reluctance to see it, for me Planet of the Apes means Charleton Heston and Roddy McDowell, and am inclined to keep it that way.

I have never seen the original, actually. (I know, shame!) I saw the Simpsons' musical version, but that's as far as I got. So I'd be coming to the new one with a clean slate. It looks interesting! If I see it, I'll report back!

Not Disney-related, but during my high school's production of "Into the Woods", I auditioned and was cast not as any of the leads, but as a tree. The other trees (the forest?) and I would move tree-looking set pieces around the stage between scenes and sing what few chorus parts there were. I was feeling snubbed until I realized that I may not have been one of the main characters, but I was, in fact, one of the title characters.

You were! That's better than I ever ranked!

Once I played the rear end of a dragon, though, and (auditioned, but failed to get) the lower half of a Cyclops (thank heavens I wasn't typecast).

Would you rather have that tail or an impossibly loud voice that you couldn't soften ever?

You can disguise a tail with tailoring! Sticking with the tail.

This is just turning into a game of "what does Petri think is worse than having a tail," isn't it?

You just can't deal with how sat I am!

Stop using those sat words with me!

They might. The play cycle "The Great Game" about Afghanistan was so terrific that the Intel Community asked for special performances for, for instance, CIA employees.

Ah, but it was about Afghanistan. Mine has Peter Pan in it.

I also have a problem with people saying they are nauseous insead of nauseated when they mean they feel nausea. Google says that feeling nausea is the first definition. Nauseated is dying faster than the subjunctive is.

People who say "nauseous" for "nauseated" are nauseous.

Would you rather have club feet, diamonds on the soles of your shoes, or your heart on your sleeve, or be taken to the vet to be, uh, spade?

I'll keep the tail.

...a religious fundamentalist or an atheist?

Oddly enough, both seem to require you to attend a fair number of meetings of the like-minded, if you're really serious about it. Depends where the music was better.

Are Sondheim or Lapine in trouble with creditors or being blackmailed or something?

Or maybe they're just depressed because they got something they thought they wanted, and they're taking it out on us. That is the worst thing that can happen to a Sondheim character.

I've never been called to a meeting of other atheists. That's the great thing about us, we mind our own business and don't bother other people.

See, the one time I went to an atheist rally on the mall and learned that there was such a thing as atheist summer camp completely ruined me where anecdotal evidence was concerned. But I'll take your word for it. That certainly seems more logical.

I was with a tour group in another country. During a particullarly long bus ride, the tour guide asked this question. You're stuck in a vat filled with vomit up to your neck. Somebody has a bucket of runny feces and he's about to toss it at your head. Do you hold your breath and duck into the vomit or do you hold your breath and get hit by the feces? I'm still scarred 18 years later.


Well, I'm nauseated.

are the same people who say something is hysterical when they mean hilarious.

Women may not be funny, but wombs are hysterical.

The release of those CIA cafeteria comment cards reminded me of the time when a friend in the Army who was doing some work at NSA headquarters brought me something labeled an "NSA Hoagie" from that agency's cafeteria. It seemed like a pretty ordinary sandwich to me but I still wonder if there were some kind of mind-control drugs in it.

Or at least a bug.

Dorothy Parker once wrote a play review, in which she complained how exhausting it was to watch an Oscar Wilde play because you had to subtly demonstrate that none of the jokes were going over your head without actually laughing at them.


How did I miss this review? It sounds amazing! Would you happen to have a link on you?

But an "atheist summer camp" is probably just a regular summer camp but you don't have to say grace before meals or have public prayer.

Do summer camps usually have that? My experience with them is admittedly limited, but that didn't seem like a standard feature.

Dorothy Parker once wrote a play review, in which she complained how exhausting it was to watch an Oscar Wilde play because you had to subtly demonstrate that none of the jokes were going over your head without actually laughing at them.

Eeeeeeeek I've gotten this same comment six times now

I think your computer is doing something wrong, sir or madam.

It's in "The Portable Dorothy Parker," which is worth it for the reviews she wrote. Some of her short stories are hilarious, others are heartbreaking. But her book & play reviews are wonderful.

Wait a second, I read the Portable Dorothy Parker. I'm going to go home and look it up right away!

Not all atheists. I once dated a guy who tried to convert me from agnosticism to atheism. It didn't last.

See, this is why I like being Episcopalian. You can believe whatever you like as long as you show up, and the music's nice.

who comes after Nadine Gordimer and Lorin Maazel?

I don't know, but everyone be very careful of buses!


They're probably just called "atheist summer camps" as a marketing ploy because of all the the Vacation Bible Camps around.

That makes sense too. Vacation from Bible Camps, more like!

I saw dinner-theater productions of "Oklahoma!" and "Pippin". Which of those would be better at preparing me for your Fringe stuff?

I'd say "Oklahoma" but I'm not really sure why. Probably both will leave you equally prepared, although if you are expecting food during the show, you'll be disappointed.

I think the Wilde review was incorrectly described. Parker talked about how obnoxious the playgoers were, in their attempts to display their sophistication and appreciation for Wilde to other, presumably less intelligent, audience members.

This reminds me of a Benchley review of a Gilbert & Sullivan play I read recently (because all the cool kids spend their Saturday nights reading Algonquin reviews!) where he says, basically, look, some of this is funny, but many chunks of it are NOT funny if you aren't personally deeply invested in the politics of England when it was written, and you need to stop guffawing as though it was. Or were, rather. Were.

"The Portable Dorothy Parker" and that immediately means you have a copy at home. You should designate one of your chats to be about the acquisition and organization of large physical libraries.

Oh, I'd love that! Sometimes I think about moving, and then I think, no, I'd have to move all the books, and that would be a huge pain! Looks like I'm trapped here forever!

We can also talk about thematic organization vs. organization by color. I have opinions.

Switching the namesake and the eponym, when the difference is clear-cut: e.g., the "Washington Post" newspaper is the eponym, while Sousa's "Washington Post March" is the namesake, because it was named for the newspaper.

I'm sure I've been guilty of this. The word  "eponymous" doesn't help matters. I always forget which way it points.

You know, the local Girls Rock! camp is having its camper showcase this coming Saturday at 11am at the 9:30 Club, if you want to go support rocking girls.

I love rocking girls! Most of my best friends are rocking girls! I'm not sure I'll be able to make it, but putting this out there for anyone who can!

I was hoping for bacon.


Now you can be a Anglican bishop!

Hey, that's not a bad plan! If this journalism wheeze doesn't work out!

Bertie has all the fun, but Jeeves gets the last word.

Oh man, you have no idea how often I ponder this.

Ont he one hand, I have a strong affinity with Bertie: we share a love of similes, unrequited love of certain musical instruments (the banjolele in his case and accordion in mine spring to mind), a generally sunny disposition, and a tendency for thinking up foolish plans that don't actually make the situation better. Also we hate getting up early, love a good whiskey and soda, and like loud clothes and toast. And revere our aunts.

No, it's looking like I'm well in the Bertie camp. But then again, Jeeves is actually competent, somewhat reserved, and spends all his free time reading Spinoza and the Poet Burns. And you don't have to hang out with Tuppy Glossop.

No, I think I'm still stuck being Bertie.

Who organizes books by color? That's even more philistine than organizing them by size.


But it does look good when it's done.

These people mainly live in design magazines.

Watch out for those crazies who write letters of more than four pages to the editors of newspapers. They're usually trying to prove that somebody else wrote Shakespeare. Said Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

I want to frame that and put it up over my desk.

Oh man, I saw a chamber play once (that's a thing, right?) and it was this really meta thing where the audience (also mainly drama majors) were watching the play largely for queues on how to best show their sophistication while also watching the rest of the audience to see if their displays of sophistication were being properly observed by their fellow audience-members. Of course, obviously I was watching the audience which was watching the audience that was also watching the play. While I also tried to watch the play, but man was it exhausting. I assume that must be sort of what it's like watching your own play performed, right? You want to make sure they're doing it right up there, but mostly fixated on the audience?

On days when I have a play about to open, I spend a lot of time repeating to myself, "The play is already a success! The question is whether the audience will be a success!" in my best Wilde impression, but then people arrest me for gross indecency and I have to stop.

Yeah, most of watching your own play consists of I-hope-they-laugh-I-hope-they-laugh-Yay-they-laughed-I-hope-they-laugh-I-hope-they-laugh-aw-c'mon-well-I'll-laugh-anyway-I-hope-they-laugh-I-etc.

You are de trop!

The direction on that one is easy: the "Washington Post" newspaper is eponymous, the march is its namesake.

Thank you for that.

I'm still having a lot of feelings about the subjunctive. You may be hearing more from me on the subject this afternoon.

then by genre and then alphabet. In my case it is both a need to be organized and need to optimize limited bookshelves. I never understood organizing by color - how do you find anything?

You are preaching to the choir! Or rather, not-preaching to the atheist camp!

Hey, not all of my books fit on the smaller shelves. Sometimes I have to put all the big hardbacks on the one shelf that is large enough to accommodate them all. But then I end up with Tolkien next to Stephen King, which just seems...wrong.

Return of the Stephen King?

Holmes is charismatic, but Watson is saner.

Oh, Holmes all the way!

I think this boils down to I want to be on the receiving end of toast.

How did you celebrate Bastille Day? You did, didn't you??? I mean, at least a croissant, right?

I enjoyed a good croissant for petit dejeuner, and then I said "Zut" to myself in a marked manner.

He calls his son over. "Fetch me the vicar, I want the last rites." "Don't you mean the priest?" replies the son. "No, the vicar. I figure I'm going to Hell ,and I want to go in as one of them."


Charlotte is literate, but Wilbur may be bacon.

I'd rather eat what I'd have to eat as a pig than eat what I'd have to eat as a spider. Regardless of my ultimate end.

HEYO! And, yes, I am extremely disappointed in myself for that one. As it were.

This is a shame-free zone. We both went immediately there.

Remember, if it weren't for the French, we'd all be speaking English today.


The title of one of Jean Kerr's comic memoirs of housewifedom (and marriage to NY Times theater critic Walter Kerr) derives from her son coming home from parochial school to announce that he'd been cast as Adam in the school play. She was delighted until he informed her that "the snake has all the lines."

I knew the title and had read some excerpts, but I never knew that was how it originated! That's fabulous!

This reminds me, when is the Psychic Channelling Shakespeare Chat?

That's August sometime, right?

Then you need more bookshelves. And possibly a bigger house.

Also that.

Yo AP - you've been chatting with us for almost two hours. You rock, girl!

Are you kidding? Chat is one of the highlights of my week!

But I should probably skedaddle. Everyone have the best week, keep reading the Compost, and feel free to join me on Twitter, where I will only bug you a little about the play(s)!

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