ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Nov 13, 2018

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Live chat with Alexandra Petri at 11 a.m. ET. Submit questions and comments for her to respond to now.

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Happy Tuesday, all! How is it shaking?

Had the first cold of the season last week, and was surprised when I looked carefully at the wrapper for Hall's Cough Drops. They contained statements like "Get Back in There Champ" and "Hi-Five Yourself." WTF, I just want to lie like a lump on the couch and suffer. Is this something new?

Noooo, Halls, not you too! Stop shaming me, cold remedies!

When asked what books he's read recently, Trump always answers "All Quiet on the Western Front." He's been saying it for years. Yet he whiffed on the chance to pay respects to WWI soldiers. I look forward to your synopsis of the version of All Quiet on the Western Front that he thinks he read. Probably didn't mention rain. Perhaps everyone was just enjoying the quiet western front.

Wow I love this idea a lot! 

I saw a great rock musical version of Shakespeare's The Winters Tale at the NYC fringe a number of years ago. I remember thinking that some of the songs needed work because some of the rhymes were a bit forced and the lyrics could be repetitive. But other than one really cringe worthy song, there was a lot to like. And it helped the structure of the play because the line, "Too hot, too hot" that, along with whatever silent acting Leontes and the director can come up with, has to carry the ENTIRE transition from "I adore my pregnant wife and want her to successfully urge my best friend who has been visiting us for nine months to stay even longer" to "OMG my wife is cheating on my with my friend and pretty much everyone is betraying me" Is expanded into a whole song. That actually helps because I saw Kenneth Branaugh pull off the transition successfully, but I've seen other actors just miss it. Also, the stage direction "exit, pursued by a bear" gets it own song in which a narrator berates Shakespeare for using a cheap trick to kill off a character when other methods are clearly available. Pretty funny. But (big one) I am listening to the CD now and it isn't as good as I'm remembering the show. I was trying to figure out why, and I think that Lin-Manuel Miranda just upped my expectations of this kind of lyric so high that no one else is really going to be able to meet it. For example, "A bunch of revolutionary abolition manumissionists. Give me a position. Show me where the ammunition is," is so fantastic (despite not really rhyming) that it is harder to tolerate lines that are inserted as pure filler to make the next line rhyme in another show. I still like it, but I keep wondering if it could be better if a genius had worked on it for seven or eight years.

I think there are few things that wouldn’t be better if a genius had worked on them for seven or eight years, but there is also a certain elegance and joy to lyrics that don’t Fully Maximize The Potential Of Each Word In The Line. I mean, “tonight” in Weat Side Story is, I want to say, 90% the word “tonight”? And if not, “Maria” is. The word “Maria,” not the word “Tonight,” that is.

It's very useful if you can't just be full-on sick for a couple/few days and instead need to be partially productive and feel low-grade terrible for a week to ten days. Granted, I don't have kids and have a flexible job where I can work from home, but I've found that not taking cold medicine (except for Vicks vapor rub) shorted my colds considerable. It's that whole short-circuiting your own immune system thing. And granted, I have a lifestyle that allows this while many people don't, but I would recommend it if you can.

Hmm, I am not sure about “that whole shirt-circuiting your own immune system thing” and wish to learn more about this! 

We can all at least agree that there is no more dispiriting sight than the person who shows up and says “Just to warn you, I’m coming down with something” and then self-enforces a quarantine you only imperfectly understand, where they feel that they are protecting you and you only feel a heavy certainty that you are about to catch whatever they have, and that nothing after the words “just to warn you, I’m coming down with something” has any meaning. 

You DO realize who the lyricist for "West Side Story" was, don't you? The young and gifted Stephen Sondheim.

No that’s exactly my point! He’s one of the all-time greats, and he wasn’t above this! The dense elaborate rhyme magic that is Hamilton is not the only way, although dang it sets the bar. 

Maria . The most beautiful sound I ever heard: Maria. Maria. Maria. Maria... All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word Maria. Maria. Maria. Maria... Maria!

Okay, so, 60 percent! 

Why did you bring this up? parumpapumpum is all I have to say.

No why oh no why would you do this to me now of all times in this chat of all places

My immune system needs ten hours of uninterrupted sleep when I have a cold, and only decongestants will provide it. Everyone's illness is different just as everyone's immune system is different.

This seems more correct to me. 

During college one of my freshman roommates would tell me not to take — I think Tylenol? when I had a cold because it “weakens your immune system” but I was never sure where she got that. Does this ring a bell for anyone? Is this where I learn that I was being sabotaged?

on the Western Front? Ok, back to reality. I went to the Imperial War Museum the last time I was in London. They had mock ups of trenches (dry and not muddy or smelly, though the sound effects were pretty horrifying). I'm pretty short, but the impression that you would have absolutely no idea what was going on even 6 feet away was overwhelming. Couldn't imagine living that way for any length of time. Has anyone ever tried to ask Trump what his favorite moment in the book is and why? I mean, plenty of English teachers have caught out students on watching the movie of Moby Dick or Billy Budd.

Yes! Or there was a great piece on I think the Toast of a book report by someone who had only seen the Great Gataby movie but not read the book. 

Are you old enough to appreciate what Live Aid means to all us codgers? It's pretty impressive that 10% of the movie can get away just being badly CGI'ed recreated footage of what can be found on You Tube.

Should I watch the movie or the YouTube footage?

with my hair shirt. Works every time.

I can, but I don't. Because if I don't take decongestants, I end up with a sinus infection.

I for one think it's great that prominent political leaders openly state the existence of voter fraud without any evidence and that people vote for these leaders. All things should be discussed! No basis of common understanding of the world should exist! Every day is step one! Also step ten!

*long guttural screech*

the BEST

it’s The Best!

I get that every person's body and response to viruses is different, but a runny nose does that to flush the virus out. If you take decongestants, it can't do that. Vicks enables me to breathe at night, plus decongestants raise my blood pressure so I can't sleep anyway even though I can breathe, but that's me. And I didn't know any of this about my body until I tried not taking cold medicine. So I'm not immune-system shaming here. Just saying try it and you might like it. And I'm not *allowed* to come into the office if I feel like I'm coming down with something because my boss doesn't want to get sick, and there's an official company rule that I can't if I've had a fever within 24 hours. So I'm pretty lucky in those regards. Funny thing though, as I get older I get colds less and less. But that's another discussion topic.

Okay, I understand a bit better now what you were getting at! Thank you for explaining. 

In the 70s I was a TA for an American history survey course. The final exam happened to be the day after the first time Gone With the Wind was shown on TV. One student, to support her answer to a question about the Civil War, wrote, "as Mammy told Scarlett...." That is a true & horrifying story.


It reduces fevers but fevers kill viruses. Best to let a mild fever run it's course, which has been a day in my experience. High or long-term fevers are different and could indicate a bacterial infection that won't run its course without antibiotics.

Cut to three weeks from now when I’m feebly trying to explain why I am walking around with a fever and runny nose refusing to take cough syrup “listen my understanding from the chat was that this would make things easier for all of us, and also the cough syrup was rude and presumptuous!” 

In my case, I've seen both operas ("Moby Dick" on PBS, "Billy Budd" in person)!

I can’t tell if this would be helpful for pulling the wool over an English teacher’s eyes purposes or not! Do you think you could write an accurate essay?

You're far from a codger! I'm such a codger that I was already an adult when Stan Lee's famous comics first came out in the early 1960s. My oh-so-sophisticated circle of friends wouldn't have been caught dead reading a comic book then. Also, our drug of choice was alcohol, not pot.

Get the DVD box set and watch Queen, U2, and Mick Jagger with Tina Turner. Three artists all at different places in their careers having legendary nights.

-signed, A Late-Boomer forever stuck in the 80s.

If your workplace doesn't have a steam room for aiding your body flushing things out your orifices, then I don't know how to end this sentence.

But I’m glad you didn’t let the sentence end on the word “orifices”! 

I've tried it and it doesn't work for me. I'm 64 and I know my body and my immune system. Look, as a longtime migraineur, I have a hard time holding my tongue when people innocently say, "Have you tried taking aspirin?" as if I had not tried everything under the sun. So please stick to "this is what works for me" and don't segue into "you should do what I do."

I think a lot of things would be solved by sticking to that, except that sometimes people are just wrong, and in fact “bleeding her and applying leeches” is not a better treatment than, say, not doing that. But this seems like a perfect “agree to do what works for you” scenario.

Also, the term “migraineur” is such a pleasant fancy-sounding way of describing such a painful experience. 

I have no idea if it's true, but I always liked this advice about treating colds: If you take something for your cold, it will last 7 to 10 days. If you don't, it will last for a week to a week and a half.


I once worked with someone who I hated for many reasons, but especially when he bragged about never taking a sick day. He also came to work very, very sick on several occasions and spread his germ warfare throughout the office, thank you very much!

Well, he sounds like a great charmer!

Mucinex-D is the bomb, but you have to convince the pharmacist you aren't running a meth lab. It's not as easy as you might think.

I don't think it hurts your immune system as in permanent damage. But the elevated temperature is part of the immune response. I guess maybe the viruses are easier for your T-cells to kill in a higher temp environment? So when you lower your fever, you make it harder for your immune system to do its job not because the cells are weaker, but because you aren't kicking the viruses down before they face their doom. However, it makes you less miserable, so I say go for it. Unless you really think that you aren't likely to be able to face down a cold even without an advantage. Also, if you feel better you are more likely to do stuff like go to class and interact with others which means you are more likely to pass on the cold. Or pick up another one.

I like the image of my immune system doing its best to kick the invader when it is down. 

I am a woman in my 60's who's always had a strong immune system. I rarely get sick. I attribute this to the fact that as a toddler, I ate dirt (according to my mother). I've read statistics that farm kids are healthier than city kids, so I'm guessing this might have helped. Please note, I am not actually recommending that anyone do this. I can't guarantee it will make you healthier.

Okay, so what I’m taking from this chat is that I should eat dirt and avoid Tylenol!

All the more reason to switch to Ricolas! They are quite effective, even if the regular ones don't have the sinus-clearing menthol of Halls (which also tend to upset my stomach). They don't tell you how to be sick!

And they have an alphorn! Or is it a flugelhorn? They have a horn!

Prince Florizel and Perdita are talking about their relationship. He is declaring his love. She is warning that they are doomed because she is of low birth. Here is a bit of the exchange that I can remember. P:Your father's "Your Highness." Mine couldn't be lower. F:My father's the king but he couldn't be slower. F:My father leads and your father's a leader. P: But my father's subjects eat out of a feeder. And on. But I kind of love the line, "But relationships with princes and shepherdesses never work out." I guess there was also an issue with them speaking such colloquial English in the songs and Shakespeare's early modern English blank verse when not singing. But that isn't an issue listening to the CD since it is only the songs.

Okay, look, I hate to complain about anyone’s work and I am glad this show exists, but “my father’s subjects eat out of a feeder.” Wow. 

This was particularly loathsome behavior in the days of shared office typewriters and then shared computers.


but I think that the best thing I ever took for a cold was something called Ussuriskii Balsam that I got in Russia. You add it to hot tea. It has an assortment of herbs from the far east taiga. It is also 90 proof.

That sounds... fortifying! 

That is the question. Just in time for Thanksgiving, the NYTimes has a piece about how "influencers" are now saying that wet brining your turkey is so past its Use By Date. Has anyone alerted the Butterball Hotline? If so, what's their take on this brining issue/

What do influencers say we should do instead? Help, influencers, help!

I worked with someone like that except he used to say he didn't want to stay home when he was sick because it was so boring. Instead he came to work and did nothing but talk about how sick he was.

Wow these gentleman sound T Riffic!

Never taking a sick day is equivalent to giving sick days. (It makes sense if you think about it a little but not too much.)

I hear if you get a bottle of the liquid stuff with guaifenesin in it, and chug the whole bottle, you'll feel better. Or really, really, different.

Oh no, I think we’ve segued from useful advice to Life Threatening advice!  Please do not hold the chat liable for any outcomes!

Before you go doing some folk remedy, keep in mind the effect of survival bias in the anecdotes. You have to also interview the deceased.

People who attribute their longevity to eating dirt are literally the epitome of Survivor's Fallacy. All the people who died from eating dirt aren't around to provide their counterpoint. This also goes for the "When we were kids we didn't wear seatbelts/bicycle helmets and we turned out fine" crowd as well.

“Gotta hear both sides... of the dirt. The people who are above and walking around and the people who... aren’t!”

I work with a woman who is Patient Zero for every plague in every season. When she shows up in full martyr mode practically wearing a death shroud and announcing, "I'm not contagious", I hightail it to the nurse's office and go home. Fool me once!

I like very much the image you have conjured of this woman wrapped in a shroud shouting “I’m not contagious!” It checks out. 

Last week, a writer in the WaPo (a Jeff Bezos toy) published the following sentence after a winning politician appeared on tv and gloated that she won despite Taylor Swift's entry into the political discussions. "“Well, I hope Taylor will shake it off,” Blackburn said, making the MOST OBVIOUS PUN POSSIBLE'? Our Moderator knows a thing or two about puns (I read your book!) so I ask, how is tossing someone's words back at them a pun? Should Ms. Petri march across the newsroom floor on straighten the writer out? Discuss. Compare and contrast.

I think I have an explanation for this! Some people (more to be pitied than censured) think that just because a joke makes them groan, it is a pun. This is not a pun. It is just a lyrical reference! At most it is the figurative application of a literal term, but I think it was both literal and figurative in the original lyric, so its meaning has not expanded. 

I once tried wet brining a 14 lb. turkey in a giant Zip-loc bag, and accidentally spilled a gallon of salty water on my kitchen floor when removing the turkey. I dry-brine my turkey now. You can google it, it's pretty simple.

Brining works. If you don't want to bother, get a kosher turkey, which is pre-brined for you, and also has no antibiotics.

Go back to what we did before brining. Or buy a heritage turkey that hasn't had its natural form bred out of it in the interest of more white meat than anyone can consume.

Well, dry-brine: mix your kosher salt with crushed dried herbs of your choice, and then rub the turkey all over with it. Put it in one of those oven bags and stick it in the fridge for 48 hours. You'll see juices come out of the bird but then they'll disappear back inside again. Remove from the bag, rinse the bird and put it back in the refrigerator uncovered for a couple of hours to dry off the skin (makes it nice and crispy). Learned that one from Martha Stewart a few years ago when she was on the TV and I was too sick to change the channel.

This sounds tasty!

And then there's the "Gloria" from P.D.Q. Bach's "Missa Hilarious": Gloria....Gloria (intoned liturgically)....I just met a girl named Gloria.

My sophomore year of high school, I spent most of my Christmas vacation actually reading "Gone With The Wind". The teacher knocked me down a grade, because "Scarlett only had one child, not three." I complained loudly enough that she gave me the "A", but she refused to look at where I had marked it in the actual freaking book.

Wow, I think you deserve chat points for pulling the rare Book-Movie Teacher Reversal. Have 3! 

was at Woodstock. It. Was. Miserable. Muddy, rainy, crowed. It stank of poorly maintained outhouses (that were full before the first day was out. People were vomiting everywhere, the sound was horrible, you couldn't hear what was on stage... on and on. I am sure that Live Aid was not at all like Woodstock.

I initially skimmed this thinking it was about trench warfare! Cool that you were at Woodstock, though! I think? 

There's also the Christmas carol whose chorus is "Glo- o-o-o-o-o - o-o-o-o-o - o-o-o-o-o - ria." And the 1960's hit song with the chorus "G-L-O-R-I-AYYYYY, Gloria!" by the group Them (featuring Van Morrison).

Is that the one that’s like “why isn’t anybody caaaaaallling?”

The thing is, if you take Tylenol you can't have that hot toddy! Tylenol and alcohol are VERY non-mixy.

Do you have any particular plans for topics for our chat the last Tuesday of December? I'll have to look up what movies are coming out around then. I assume we will have a chat that day, as many of us have the day off and therefore nothing else to do.

You know, I might actually not be chatting the last Tuesday of December... 

The visuals provided sound like "Bring out your dead!" would be more appropriate.

Sounds like something Jar Jar Binks would say.


No, no -- you're thinking of the '80s hit by Laura Branigan. The '60s one is very different.

The version of Moby Dick that we read in high school was edited down. The teacher loved the book and would have preferred to teach the whole thing, but, there wasn't any money in the budget to buy books they already had, and he found it invaluable in figuring out who had only read a commercial summary because they would reference things that were edited out our version.

Wow, that’s such a warring set of incentives! What parts did it cut? All the whale parts?

Does that mean that-- like the Late Night Comedians-- you will be rerunning one of your Classic Chats. Just have some poor intern periodically repost questions followed shortly thereafter by your pithy responses? Imagine the possibilities!

Then again, I will be in the airport running from holiday to holiday, so a chat might be just what the doctor orders! Although I think I will literally be in the airport running so possibly not...

Do you watch this show? They have a good bit of fun with puns and other wordplay, so it seems like it would be your jam. (It's also pretty funny otherwise, with nice hints of sweetness.)

I have watched a couple of episodes — including the train one — and found them uniformly charming! 

It's the one that goes And her name is G L O are I I I G L O are I A (Gloria) G L O are I A (Gloria) I'm gonna shout it all night (Gloria) I'm gonna shout it everyday (Gloria) Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

I didn't know this about Hall's, but it is cruel. I am similarly enraged by the motivational messages printed on the tags of herbal teas. If I'm drinking echinacea tea, I am—by definition—not in a receptive mood to be told that "gratitude is the beginning of enlightenment" or some such crap.

Hear, hear! Tea should be drunk and not heard. Like many Thanksgiving relatives. 

Blubber, of course. And in some religious schools, they read Moby Richard instead.

Maybe just the blubber?


Oh dear, is this the First Married Holiday for you, where you try to give equal time to both families? Warning: don't let anyone think that this is how it will always be.

Ayup! We have no idea what we are doing but are trying to be as accommodating as possible!

Only book I never read for a class. Couldn't even manage to watch the movie. My high school book report on it earned an A. Thank you, Cliffs Notes (yes, I am that old). I just read it a few years ago, in an annotated online version. God, it was horrible and dull. --Signed, an English major who now writes for a living

I don’t understand — you didn’t find the DETAILED, yet INACCURATE accounts of whale anatomy to be RIVETING?

I hereby commemorate him. I will think of something to say later this week.

Hear, hear.

Whales were hunted specifically for their oil, before the discovery of petroleum.

This chat is a blubbering mess! 

I do love that fewer than 200 years ago people were like “do you want LIGHT in your HOUSE? Okay, you have to go to the OCEAN and kill an ENORMOUS MONSTER with a pointy stick!” 

Don't combine them. Your liver thanks you.

And on that note, I am going to skedaddle! Have a great week, all. Use suitable cold remedies, avoid whale parts, and see you next week! In the interim, I’ll be on the blog ( and Twitter (@petridishes!)

I had a whale of a time reading about rivets.

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