ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Sep 26, 2017

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Happy Tuesday, everyone! How is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness treating you? 

Last week's chat included a thread about the singular "their." Afterwards, I noticed that the National Portrait Gallery has an upcoming exhibition called "The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers." "Face" is singular. Shouldn't it be plural? Unless the workers are all clones or had plastic surgery and therefore all have identical faces. Link to exhibition:

I think you're right! Especially since "workers" is plural, it seems like we're going to be dealing with multiple faces... 


"The train must be a pirate, 'cause the board says ARR" to quote that viral DC Metro rap from some years ago. 

How many years do you think it will take for "As Seen On TV" packaging emblems to stop looking like a convex 4x3-ratio picture tube and start looking like a TV from this century? Do you think it will ever happen?

I think the TV's on such packaging are permanently trapped in the amber of time. If they move any further into the future, the people selling As Seen On TV items will have to move their production values out of the early 90's, and that is not about to happen. 

ALSO, KLAXON: Remember the saga of this man who ghosted on his ex after years of dating and living together by moving to a NEW COUNTRY without telling her? Well, there has been an update! If you were following it, click here! Even if you weren't, click, so we can discuss!

Took my niece to Hamilton last Tuesday. The return line is very doable. I got there at 12:30 (PM) and was first in line. There were steps to sit on and an overhang to block the rain. At 4:50 PM I was offered what must have been house seats (5th row, center orchestra, on the aisle) for the non-premium ticket price. In addition, at the show I warned her about not singing along, made her watch while I turned OFF my cell phone, taught her about rushing to the ladies room first thing at the intermission, tipped the ladies room attendant, and brought her booster pillow back to the ushers. Later in the week, I graciously lost multiple games of "Bears vs. Babies" and a few rounds of laser tag to my nephew (even though I was actually trying and he is only 8) and played a very, very long game he is developing with help from his dad that is based on a video game I have never heard of without screaming or tearing my hair out. And I made a cake. Pretty sure I will never beat that week of aunt awesomeness in my entire life.

Oh my gosh, you have set the aunting bar to new heights. I'm going to copy this and set it to email to myself in ten years with WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR YOUR NIECES LATELY in the subject line. I can only hope that I will have done anything comparable, but I doubt it. 

Bears vs. Babies is a terrifying and delightful game! w

I just purchased a cabinet from Pier One which had the warning "For flat screen TV only".

Ha! Get your Cathode Ray Tubes out of here!

What types of puzzles do you enjoy? If you could be a puzzle, which one would you be?

Crossword, logic, and jigsaw, in that order! I think I'd be a crossword, although my mom once read me a children's story she had written about how the first crossword came to be and it was somewhat horrifying and involved a creature named Curious being permanently frozen where people could write on him, so, er, maybe I'll be a logic puzzle come to think of it. 

You mean, a smartphone? I would be more impressed with a more honest slogan, e.g. "As Seen On Your Phone -- No, Not That Kitten Video."

No charity takes CRT TVs any more, which is a problem as we have a perfectly good gigantic one that took three people to carry into the house and put into a cabinet. I'd like to donate it (it's got all the cable bells & whistles) to, say, a youth club or a shelter, but it would have to be Come And Get It. Anybody know a charity with strong people who'd come and get it?


I guess you could say with such heroic efforts, she's upped the auntie?


there's the joke, right there! 90 points to you! 

They could change that to "Stores Won't Carry This". Except, of course, the "As Seen on TV" stores because it still sounds good, when compared to "Junk for $19.95"

"This Bra Is Not Innovative At All, But Come, What Did You Expect Buying A Bra At CVS" 

I don't know that this story has taught me anything about how bad it is to ghost, how important it is to make up with someone, or how powerful is the Internet. It mostly teaches me that (a) it is better to be a boss than an employee, (b) it is better to be related to a powerful family than not, and (c) both (a) and (b).

Did you read the first one, though? It sounds from this like you have read only the second one. Based on everything he has written so far about the experience, I would hesitate to take his assertion that this is only happening because of "nepotism" and being related to a "powerful family" at face value. He definitely did something super screwed up and it seems unclear if he took any responsibility for it at any point. But (a) is definitely true, no arguments there. 

Recyclers won't come and get it but they'll not toss it in the dump either. Check out KeepItGreen if you're near Alexandria.

I think the point is, the American Workers have, if not a singular face, a common face, something that can be understood if only people would look.

That could be it. I guess we'll have to go to the exhibit to find out. 

You do know there are 'As Seen on TV' stores?

No joke, I was thinking of doing a wedding registry at one, but that seemed like overcommitment to a bad joke. 

This looks like the seed of a wonderful feature story.

"I registered at "As Seen On TV." You won't believe what happened next."

Oddly enough, that passes spell check.

Apparently, it's a small dog. 

Speaking of spell check, does anyone know how to learn a bunch of spelling words quickly? I am participating in this year's annual Media vs. Members of Congress spelling bee and I don't want to embarrass myself in the absence of the thin red line. 

Heck, I'm trying to give away a perfectly good piano (which has the same technology as the modern ones) and I can't find a home for it.

Upright or grand?

At her wedding this past weekend, she and her wife had the officiant say, "And now for the serious part," take a deep breath, and give the whole "MAWWIAGE. Mawwiage is what bwings us togevvah today" speech from The Princess Bride.

That's brilliant.

And it just celebrated its 30th anniversary! Which surprises me; I know Robin Wright is in everything but it felt like it was made earlier than the late 80's somehow. 

Judy Moody slept with a dictionary under her pillow. On the downside, it gave her a stiff neck.

I can try that! 

in situations where all the people who could possibly be included are female. Imagine, "Each woman in this all female sports team has to carry their own equipment." WHY DO THIS? Seems useless. Why not use her?

That seems like a rare case where "her" would be the more appropriate word, but I think such perfectly sorted-by-gender groups are rare. 

Oh no, I just used "rare" twice in a single sentence! 

I seriously considered asking a man named Bill to marry just so we could dance to "Wedding Bell Blues" at our wedding.

And you could have played "Bill" by P. G. Wodehouse from Showboat, too! 

The younger you are, the faster and the more permanently you learn and memorize.'re probably better fixed for this bee than Congress. Do you promise to give us the lowdown on which party spells better than the other? Just to confirm my prejudice, you know.

Ha, well, there is only one congressional R participating, I think. So her performance is going to carry extra statistical weight. 

Here's how I remember how to avoid mistakes: Visualize the word. If it looks like I've seen it that way, it definitely means that's either the correct or the incorrect spelling.

Sounds like a paln. 

Wait until Best Buy closes, then use a group of people to leave it next to the front door.

Is this like leaving a baby on the steps of a church? 

Yes, I did, because I couldn't understand the second one without it. But I don't understand your response, because you seem to want me to be outraged at him or something. To be sure, the original ghosting was bad, and he should have gone back and apologized at any time during the ten years. It was also better, on a personal level, that he apologized ten years down the line than not at all. But apparently his efforts to do the right thing and involve HR backfired, leading to the board's decision to choose the boss over the employee, and the link between personal and professional disaster. Sure, we only have one side of the story, but unless the school is going to claim that he still works there, I don't see how it would change the contours of the story.

Did anyone else also read this? Maybe I'm misinterpreting it. I thought he resigned on the spot, on the grounds that having to limit interaction to a professional setting was too much to ask. " limit our interactions beyond the school, meaning no socialising for me. I do not understand how this could work. It would be very much out of character for me and my colleagues and friends would get suspicious."

I don't know how he gets from "limit our interactions" to "NO SOCIALIZING" and the whole "out-of-character for me and everyone would be suspicious "deal seems weird, since no one there knows him yet.  They definitely chose the boss over the employee, but given the relative difficulty of replacing one over the other, and the recency of his employment, this seems like the correct choice. But someone else please weigh in, or you can point out where I'm over-reaching! 

The photo exhibit title wouldn't sound as strange if it were called, "The Sweat of Their Brow." That's a not uncommon idiom, even though it sounds as if the workers have a collective brow, stitching them together like a fuzzy harness. The title's obviously a play on brow, but the museum couldn't use the idiom because people would fear the exhibit was just a bunch of forehead closeups.

For a limited time only: BROWS. Please come in and browse. Not brows, browse. Well, we'll workshop it. 

It's an upright. No, I can't have my movers take it to your place; you're 45 minutes in the wrong direction. No, your husband can't come pick it up tomorrow morning; it takes more than one 70 year old man to move a piano (actually suggested by my next-door neighbor, but she WAS slightly buzzed at the time).

Yeah, I am glad you put the kibosh on that. It takes about as many people to move a piano as to tip a cow. 

I forget which one, but we donated ours to a church. Schools might welcome one, and I bet you can find people who'd take it on freecycle, for families that want lessons but "$5000 for a used piano? How about playing the recorder?"

The only thing better than donating a piano to a church is being an organ donor. 

and "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey." I bet we can work up a whole reception's worth of Bill songs. "Billy Boy," of course.

"Bills Bills Bills"!

That happened to a colleague of mine. She was an Army wife, so when he was posted to Germany, she took the nearest available job, which was in the UK, and traveled to see him most weekends. Until one day she arrived there and found he had transferred without telling her. Transferred back to the U.S.

Look, I get that break-ups are hard, and that from the breaker upper perspective ghosting is by far the easiest and least painful solution, but man oh man it deserves the social stigma it has received. That sounds pretty lousy. 

how many people have to be a school for it to start

is it a school of fish, thought, or young learners?

When you say you like crosswords, does that mean the old-fashioned kind? My favorites are cryptics, which I have to do over a long period of time with a lot of detached mulling, but the NYT "Split Decisions" also bring me joy and pain. I will do acrostics, but there comes a time about 75% of the way through the puzzle that completion starts seeming like first-year clerical work.

Which ones are cryptics? I'm just talking New York Times Increasing Daily In Difficulty standard format. 

More, in fact, because presumably greater care is taken to move a piano and keep it undamaged than is taken to tip a cow.

My takeaway was the same as yours. This guy sounds like an all-around piece of work. His ex was lucky.

Do we get to look forward to a column from you about it or is it so bad that it deserves to be merely forgotten?

I don't know if look forward is the word, but I have a lot of thoughts! It's on my docket... 

Any news lately? I figure asking you is a lot faster and more reliable than trying to find out any other way.

I keep having the problem where I will read Star Wars production updates right before bed and they will infest my dreams so that I cannot tell if the subplot involving porgs is real or a product of a stressed subconscious... 

Isn't that just a play on the Biblical verse, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread"? From Genesis, the book not the band.

Yes, definitely! Good call. The thing you have to eat your bread by instead of surviving entirely on fruit like some of my dieting friends apparently, according to Facebook. 

When we cleaned out a deceased relative's house, we tried to donate or otherwise give away as much as possible, as the nearest and dearest couldn't take it. No one wants old TVs. We tossed it in the dumpster.

My grandparents' house had an old TV that had had the screen removed and could be used as a puppet theater, if you really really don't want to get rid of it and like how much space it takes up. people will take anything as long as its free!

Browse before house (the verb, not the noun). Verbs before herbs (where "herbs" stand in for all people, places, and things). Stands before ands ... I don't even know what I'm doing. It's probably sleep deprivation.

Should I be frightened that I was nodding along being like, "yes, this makes sense, good mnemonics"? 

When my dad sold our house, he hired someone to clean it out and they decided dismantling the piano was easier than moving it. Granted, the thing hadn't been tuned in a very long time and had a couple broken keys, but it was sad to see it completely in pieces the day I stopped by.

You walk by, and I... fall to pieces. 

-your piano apparently

You should be GREAT at those. Sometimes called British or some variation, the grid is not complete like in a traditional puzzle so there are lots of letters with no cross letter. Answers can be puns, anagrams, or part of the clue. It's been a while but one that stuck with me was "Edgar Allen and Eliot are two" and the answer was "POETS".


I'll have to check these out. 

Imagine the pain of having to track down your ex because you need to know where to serve the divorce papers. Although I believe the armed services have procedures in place to cope with this kind of thing (disciplining the ghoster, supporting and advising the ghostee).

Ghostee is a great term and I want to start using it. Related to this, my friend Jessica is trying to make "haunting" happen: it's when you try to ghost someone but KEEP SEEING THEM. 

I never know how much to tip. Is 15% standard now?

I think you tip cows 15% and waitstaff 20%. 

The NY Times Sunday mag has the hardest crossword of the week in it, and also one of a rotating series of big bonus puzzles. The cryptic is the hardest of all. It shows up maybe once every six weeks. The clues are smoking hard, dense and obtuse. As in the above "Chat-host architect encloses presidential inauguration" (5) letters). Answer would be Pe(TR)i. Or I.M. Pei's name enclosing Teddy Roosevelt's initials, together spelling Petri. But that is an easy one I just made up on the spot.

*staggers away from keyboard, mentally stunned*

I will worry about these once I have gotten all the spelling under my belt. 

It seems to me that the real issue was not the original "ghosting" (and let's be honest; this wasn't ghosting. Ghosting is when you stop contacting a former friend and don't return their calls; it's not moving out in secret on someone you're actually living with; he's a fly-by-night. "Ghost" was him trying to paint himself in the best light -- he suggests she's a "stalker" since she contacted his family to try to find him? He disappeared without a note! She could have thought he was hit by a bus, or kidnapped or something!) but the internet uproar in response to his question. That wasn't his fault, but everything else was. In any event he easily could have lived with a no-contact requirement for the rest of the school term, while he looked for a new position. Weird guy; no sympathy here.

The internet pile-on is unfortunate, but at least it's anonymous. (I hope.)

One person can move a spinet if they have a furniture pad and a four wheel dolly. You just have to know what you are doing.

This also, I think, assumes you do not have to move said piano up or down any stairs. But good to know about the pad and dolly!

This TV is not tossable, except perhaps by a Monty Python style trebuchet.

Not true. The Sunday NYT puzzle is the LARGEST of the week (normally 21x21) but the Saturday is the hardest of the week. Sunday puzzles are closer to Thursday-level difficulty.

YES, this. 

My ex is Foreign Service. Not sure if it's still the policy, but the State Department required I get a notarized form saying I had his permission to leave post, and then another form where he gave his permission to remove my own belongings out of storage. Military spouses who have heard this story were always horrified.

*shudders in deep horror* I'm not even a military spouse and I'm horrified. 

Not my favorite. Almost everyone does "theme" puzzles then and if it's a topic I know nothing about it makes for a slog.

She could have just gone to Germany with him. It's an accompanied tour. Going to England to be closer to him, but not going to Germany with him in the first place makes no sense, unless he lied to her and told her she couldn't come to Germany with him, because he didn't want her there.

Do you have any more data on this or should we continue to speculate wildly? I am happy to do either!

Thank you for this perfect example of singular "they."

I don't think so. I would call what he did Extreeeeeeme Ghosting.

Extreme ghosting merits extreme BOOing. 

Will you insist all your "can you use it in a sentence" examples come in the form of puns?

They often do, in fairness. Writing spelling sentences is a sweet gig. 

A friend's house flooded here in Houston. One of the first items out on the curb was her piano, which had been dipped in unspeakably foul waters. It was sad. A week later my mother mentions in passing that her cousin is looking for a piano harp (the metal interior part that includes the wires) to turn into a sculpture at school. I checked with my friend, who said that the piano had already been hauled away by scavengers. I felt that I had dodged a bullet because I did not want to carry or dismantle this thing.

I love the casualness of your  mother mentioning in passing that the cousin is looking for an [extremely unwieldy thing to remove that is somewhat difficult to come by]. Hope you and friend are holding up all right! 

I dunno; when I am a contestant in a spelling bee, all of the sentences sound like "She was very, very eleemosynary."

"Get that gladiolus out of here!" 

No. She could not find a job on the same small post in Germany. She was a civilian DoD employee (as was I) and the closest job she could find was in the UK. Quitting her job for three years was not really an option because of the difficulty of getting it back.

Aha! This was better than rampantly speculating. 

(as the Beach Book Boys sang). Thank you. That was high praise. What are you on?

Just coffee, at the moment. 

The art project should check with the organizers of the public piano projects that have been in several cities (put a piano on the sidewalk for passersby to play). They may have instruments that are looking for new life in art.

This is a good idea, if they are still looking! 

"What did that person at the door want?" "Eleemosynary, my dear Watson!"

I am often proud of working at the Post, but seldom so proud as when we used "eleemosynary" in an editorial... 


Milking this one for all it's worth, eh?

The more I think about it, the less believable the story is. Random people can't just move to England and get a job. Military spouses are "sponsored" in the country where their active duty spouse is stationed. They are allowed to be there and they may be able to work (on base, maybe off base depending on the status of forces agreement the U.S. has with the host country). I was in the Air Force for 22-years, 3 overseas tours. I was a paralegal in the Air Force JAG corps. The story sounds iffy to me, unless the wife was British...then maybe.

What say you to this, OP?

Just don't haul it out a window using a rope and pulley. I've seen too many roadrunner accidents.

No, the other button.

Is this another piano-moving-related post?

but found out it wasn't my forte.

The key to moving a piano is -- well, really, there are a lot of keys. 

If there are any electronics recycling companies near you, they might give you money for it. I have gotten money for recycling old TVs and microwaves before- they want the metal out of them.

I say don't be such an idiot, doubter. I, and my ghosted colleague, worked at a joint U.S./UK SIGINT base in the UK. DoD has such stations all over the UK and many in Europe. We did not "just move to England and get a job"; we got official DoD postings.

My doubts are assuaged! It has been nice having you here to rebut the challenge that you and your friend do not exist. 

OK, if she was a DOD employee who was able to get a job in England I take back my previous posts. Then the story makes more sense.

There we go!


that had a whole bunch of phrases as part of the décor. "Eleemosynary beneficence" was one of them. This was before google and smart phones. If you didn't know what the words meant, you had to go find a dictionary.

Speaking of which, I should probably do as you advise and see how much I can cram between now and tonight! Wish me luck. And see you next week here, before that, on the blog ( and before that, on Twitter (@petridishes)! Have a grand week, all. 

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