ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Nov 27, 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 does it hang?

Yesterday the White House released a 56 second video showing First Lady Melania Trump waltzing through the halls of the WH, including one decorated entirely with blood red Christmas trees. Plus a closeup of a Be Best ornament on another tree elsewhere. Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said Melania decided “to let the decorations speak for themselves.” No word, yet, from the Trees.

Those decorations spoke for themselves, I thought. I can still hear the screams. 

I had to call a number labeled as a "hotline" earlier today. It was not an emergency, just a question. I realized I was reluctant to call that number because I didn't have an emergency, but honest, it's the number they want you to call with questions! No question, just wishing they had a less dramatic name for their phone number. <p> PS: Your chat was way more helpful than the dear folks at Free Range Food regarding reheating leftovers. I'm still working on perfecting my reheating sequence.

I have had a similar situation! I blame all of this on an emphatic man named Demetrios who used to come address us at summer camp and repeat “Never. Prank. Call. 911,” in an ominous manner, which included a story of someone who had prank called 911 and had received a prompt response while the house next door burned to the ground. In retrospect I think the responders would have seen the burning house, but at the time I just retained the lesson never to call an emergency-ish number when a less urgent one would do. “Oh, it’s just light bleeding! Is there an informational number instead?”

Hi Alexandra! My wife, Ingrid, is a huge fan of yours and is having a birthday this week. Any chance you could wish her a Happy Birthday? Thanks!

Happy Birthday, Ingrid! Many exclamation points and happy returns of the day!

My family likes each other. The biggest blow up/melt down of the holiday was when a nine year old had a bit of a wobbly because his parents said that they weren't going to see the 9:10 PM showing of the new Potterverse movie with a group of adults and teens on Thursday because it would be out too late (where upon he refused to fall asleep until after midnight just to prove he could have made it). There was a slow leak flat tire and a dead car battery (different cars), but all worked out fine with that. In fact, the dead battery was great timing since it was on the verge of happening anyway and it was easier and cheaper to have it replaced by AAA in motel parking lot in Vermont, rather than on the streets of Manhattan. A rather large group played with phones for a bit, but it was a quiz game that was a real group activity and even people without phones could participate and watch. My cousin who spent his last semester in high school in Romania teaching English got to tell all his stories to a rapt audience. I skipped Black Friday shopping with my sister-in-law to play Legos with my nephew. Oh, and my flights were in a smaller airplane (2 and 2 seating) that evidently isn't worth re-configuring to fit in more seats, so there was at almost 6 inches of clearance between my knees and the seat in front of me. I was pretty comfortable even when the guy in front of me reclined a bit. Pretty much a fantasy holiday. I'm almost scared to be back in the real world.

Wow! This should be framed and put in a museum! 

Now that it's been almost a year since the release of The Last Jedi, would this be a good time to release a Star Wars story, assuming one hadn't been released earlier this year?

See, I feel like this is also a factor in Solo’s box office performance. We got used to having a Star War at Christmas, and now we have a whole eighteen months to wait, while Solo came right on the heels of TLJ. I move they re-release Rogue One! I really liked Rogue One.

is it okay to ask a restaurant to reheat soup if say you got really into a great book and an hour has gone by?

I think it depends on how formal the restaurant is. If it’s a coffee shop vibe, you’ll probably do better than somewhere with a white tablecloth and a man who clears away the crumbs with a small utensil expressly for that purpose. 

I am home with a wretched sore throat and have been variously advised to imbibe tea and/or hot rum. Is rum good in chamomile tea?

I don’t think so! But it could work in a hot toddy...

What is your New Year's resolution? Can you commit to Be Best?

This is a good time to start thinking about it! I found my resolutions for 2017 and although I did a pretty good job with them there was a lot I did not get to. I always make the mistake of not including a few easy to do resolutions to bolster my confidence as I tackle items 4-70. Or the easy one turns out to be unexpectedly difficult, as the year I resolved to eat a piece of fruit every day and wound up with a backlog of months of oranges. 

what's it like to be writing satirical columns—which may in a fanciful way distort factual information to make light of a current situation—in the era of quote-unquote fake news? does it often happen that Commenters (however impossibly) fail to recognize your satirical aims?

It is a challenge. This, as a friend put it, is a Poe’s Law presidency, and so if the goal is to come up with anything so over the top that no one will believe it, that’s impossible. It really depends on the piece, though, as to whether commenters will take it seriously or not. Some subjects just inspire people to post their Usual Opinions regardless of the actual content below the headline. 

I think that there used to be a store that sold candles that general shape and color. Not candles that actually look like trees, but just wide at the bottom and tapering to a sharp point. Maybe IKEA? Or Coldwater Creek? (Yes, that is a dis.) I'm remembering it as a catalogue thing. It is too bad. Because varying heights of real trees festooned with cranberries would be nice. Trees made of cranberries doesn't seem to work.

I think I remember those candles! I feel like, though, if you have to specify “this is a dis” it maybe isn’t going to have the withering impact you had hoped. 

Even in Chamomile Tea. Your Mileage May Very

I believe that if this were the Tom Sietsema chat, he would say it's perfectly fine to ask white-tablecloth-type restaurants to reheat your soup as well.

Ah, this is one of those times when the difference between the question “is it fine to ask for X” and “would you actually ever advise anyone to have the interaction involved in asking for X” becomes so apparent! X has to clear a very high bar for me to ever find asking for it worthwhile. Will they? Maybe! Do I want to have to look them in the eye and state this request as though I think it is reasonable? Almost never! 

If you've been alone reading at that table for more than an hour, you'd better tip a LOT. Like, 50%, in cash. That's somebody's livelihood you're messing with.

They have come at last to the Compost Chat: the Tipping Wars. In general, yes, please, please tip! In this scenario, we still don’t know what the restaurant vibe is! It could be a coffee shop and you might not be holding up a table with a server. But if you are, this seems like solid advice, especially if you ask for reheating. Also, soup is usually not super expensive and a 50% soup tip is a small price to pay for the space and the courtesy. 

I don't have an answer, but feel compelled to mention that there is a tea out on the market now that proudly proclaims, "Britain wasn't built on chamomile!" Or something to that effect.

That tea sounds awfully belligerent. We’d better throw it into the harbor. 

that an hour is plenty of time to eat a bowl of soup and the white-tablecloth restaurant is going to have a manager politely clearing his/her throat before asking you to settle your bill so the next reservation can be seated.

Why wouldn't they? I don't think there is a possible health code violation since you're still in the restaurant and they served the soup. Just an oops! My bad! The soup is great but my book distracted me.

"Real Brits drink Camellia sinensis!" is another great possibility for that advertiser. Presumably it's some kind of macho-appealing kind of campaign to fight off the advances of the herbal brigades.

No, the table is holding itself up with legs...but even a coffee shop needs customers, and at some point you're just being rude.

This is an interesting chat subject, actually: what is the Point At Which You Simply Must Order Something Else Or Leave? It can’t be the same everywhere, but there should be some formula like “I before E except after C,” or “When a line starts to form and you’re alone at a table with two chairs, better prepares.” 

It's okay to get a re-heat if you own the restaurant.


If you scaled your ambition down to, say, one blueberry, I'm sure you could meet your target. Lowered expectations FTW!

Did you see Benedict Cumberbatch's recent denunciation of chamomile tea on the grounds that it isn't tea, as it contains no tea leaves, but in fact an infusion or tisane? Dreadfully pedantic and correct (and I say that as a compliment). Also chamomile tastes disgusting so rum could only be an improvement.

I would expect nothing less from Bandersnatch Cummerbund. (Sorry, that’s Post Style, I don’t make the rules.) I think it is time for a return to tisanity. 

1. Heat water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. 2. While waiting, measure 1.5 ounces of rum into a teacup. 3. Pour boiling water into a pot containing chamomile tea leaves in a ball (or a bag if you must). 4. Drink the rum. 5. Discard the tea. 6. Repeat steps 2 and 4 ad libitum.

I detect no lie in this.

If the restaurant is not full, and you're not holding up the table, then it's not rude to linger, nor to ask for the soup to be reheated. Just tip accordingly.

Ihave failed miserably at National Novel Writing Month but i sitll have some 20,000 words put on paper. Not, mind, you , in any particular order. Just .words on paper. Well, screens. Shall i keep it up or wait inutil next year novel writing month rolls around?

Keep it up, I say! That’s 20,000 more than you had before. If you fail the same way next month, you’ll be at 40,000!

I over tip the woman who cuts my hair. The cut is $21. I give her $30. But recently she told me that I really need to start buying my hair supplies from her (shampoo, conditioner, leave in stuff) because if she doesn't sell to enough people, the owner of the salon will reduce the percentage of her fees she gets to take home. I like this woman, but the salon is steps away from an Ulta, and there is no way they are going to match the prices I can get there (sales, plus coupons, plus converting accrued points to cash). I feel like I walk in and give her $9 plus whatever her share is from the salon for about 15 minutes of work. When she is busy, I wait. Do I really have to spend too much on my products because her employer is a jerk?

 I wonder if it’s because her boss is making her pay for the supplies she uses out of pocket. I don’t think salon owners are actually allowed to do that, if she’s an employee there and not a booth renter or independent contractor who brings her own supplies. Can anyone back me up on this? This doesn’t sound fair to her or to customers like you. 

Some places actually encourage lengthy loitering, on the theory that the longer you stay the greater the odds that you'll order something else. My rule of thumb is, you get 45 minutes for a full meal; after that, if no one asks you to leave, stay as long as you like, but if you are asked to leave, hurry up. Wonder what Sietsema would say.

This was just crying out for Yoda's voice and diction.

Begun, these tipping wars have.

Are they, by any chance, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"?


Our word for tea means both black tea and herbal tea or in fact any infusion, and if you can get USA-ans to start using a term that that fussy little Belgian is associated with, you might want to work on world peace.

World peace? No, no, I hear Jared has that covered. 

Hey, Alex, I coined that term during a WaPo online TV chat (for Lisa de Moraes, who briefly got into trouble with the Poynter Institute over it)! See:


20k words? Use pictures. Save time! The AI is doing most of the writing. The nice thing about being a writer today is how little writing there is.

This is a good point. For anyone else behind on their Nanowrimo efforts, you do have the option of just quickly drawing 50 pictures...

Almost all of the stylists are contractors, which means that they pay rent for their chair and have to provide all their own stuff ... so maybe the terms of the OP's stylist's contract require selling product too.

It would be worth figuring out what exactly she’s being required to do so you could see if there were any intermediate measure that might make sense. If you value getting services from her and have a good relationship, but can’t splurge on the expensive products, maybe there’s a slightly higher amount you could tip her directly that would help her close the gap? 

What's Nanowrimo?

National Novel Writing Month! It’s observed each November. You can still join, if you can write 50,000 words in the next three days!

I had a cookie in my desk drawer. It is not there now. Which is most likely? A. It was stolen by the cleaning crew. B. It was removed by the Doctor using a sonic screwdriver. C. I ate it and forgot. D. Other.

Definitely B. 

I just looked them up. And I want chatter to know that I laughed so hard (silently in my cubicle) at the original post all those years ago that I nearly coughed up a lung.

She is familiar enough with employment law that she could point the hairdresser in the right direction. Of course if this causes the hairdresser to lose her job...

nah, pretty close but an actual variety of nouns and verbs.


As salesperson at a best buy (NEVER SHOP THERE, BTW), making the customer buy the extras was what the job was about, not the main, such as printers, which were really just loss leaders. The ink, the paper, that's where the money is I suspect as much in beauty salons, And yes, failing to do so would lose you your job.

I am obviously not a subject-matter expert but I am not sure I agree that this would carry over to beauty shops! Hair salons are mostly a place where people with skills are paid to provide a service, not where you go to purchase a product, which is already a difference from the Best Buy framework. 

This is a predatory practice on the part of the salon owner.

Or at least, if accurate, tell your hairdresser you would follow her somewhere else! 

her "share" that she takes home from the cuts is reduced from 4x% to 4y%. Not sure what the x and y are . I couldn't possibly tip enough in my once every 4 to 6 weeks hair cut to make up for her percentage of take home on all her cuts and services being reduced. I don't think she provides her own supplies for washing as they seem to be located in the washing area and everyone in the place uses that area. I couldn't vouch for anything else, but I don't use any other supplies in my hair cut unless she sprays something on at the end.

Thank you for the update. It really sounds sketchy that they are making her do this! You might do well to ask Karla!

E. There is a mouse in your office that has evaded notice up until now...

Ah yes, the elusive office mouse! 

Why is this just a Thanksgiving thing? I realized how good it is. It should be a year-round thing. Do they continue to sell it in stores after Thanksgiving? I'm headed to the grocery store this evening to find out. (And yes, I'm talking about the kind you plop out of a can in a wobbly, gelatinous cylinder.)

All hail the wobbly gelatinous cylinder with the can marks fully intact! least write a good sentence, and submit it to the Bulwer-Lytton contest:

THIS. My hairdresser gave her notice at one place and was instantly kicked out the door and the salon owner told her customers that my gal had left with no notice or oforwarding address. Fortunately my wonderful hairdresser had managed to grab her Rolodex before the door was locked behind her and we all followed her to her new employer.

I loved that you brought Bandersnatch Cummerbund into the chat, and then was totally elated with the originator was here as well. My November is complete. And now I can finish off my hot ground coffee bean tisane with a smile on my face.

And on that note, have a wonderful rest of November and a happy December! See you next week! And in the interim, catch you on the blog ( and Twitter (@petridishes)!

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