ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Feb 12, 2019

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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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Connect on Twitter: @petridishes And catch up with the blog here!

Happy Tuesday, all! How is it shaking? 

Hi Alex. Long time reader, first time writer. If one were to re-write Shakespearean verse to be included in a Tinder profile, which of the two would you suggest? Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Tinder, not to praise it. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Tinder. Or: Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I swipe on thee, and then my state, (Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate; For thy sweet match remembered such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings. Asking for a friend.

Ooh, my tendency is the second one! I think the first one sounds like you are coming to bury Tinder, whereas the second one sounds like you are looking for love— plus is slightly more obscure and I feel like things that feel slightly obscure are better conversation-starters? 

Waiting for the countdown clock for the next shutdown on the Post's webage to reach zero. I think I've seen this film before and am somewhat bored. Otherwise fine.

News these days is just one enormous seasick lurch from countdown clock to countdown clock. 

My sister turns 40 this year and I'd like to get her something (do something?) fun. We don't live close, so I can't take her out. But I'm really good at ordering stuff and having it shipped! Any suggestions?

Chat, I am counting on you! 

I am a big fan myself of food, although one thing I have from experience learned about ordering people frozen food as a gift is you should be sure they will be home within a week of when the food arrives.

I am a 65-year-old woman who is very active; I don't feel old. But I had to google "What is Tinder" after reading the first posting on your chat.

I am both proud and sorry to be the instrument of introducing Tinder as a concept to one who had managed to go 65 years without running across it, but better that you learn from us where you can google and ask questions than discover it suddenly mid-conversation and have to pretend familiarity with it, guided only by context clues. 

I've had great success (gushing, glowing, actual calls from humans) sending Williams-Sonoma food - the pastries the recipient bakes, as well as the candy. It was the sound of voices on a telephone that made me a believer.

Yes! I have had strong success with pears and I’ve also gotten and loved Callie’s Charleston Biscuits— the cinnamon ones are to die for! 

When asked why there was no White House dog for the first time in a century, the reply was, "I don't have time." Is this a plausible excuse, or is it more of wanting to keep public focus where it belongs, on him? How can you trust a leader without a pet?

On the one hand, it does seem like there is a lot of Executive Time there that could be more profitably used by walking a dog. And we know he is good at dog-whistling. Also, it would be nice to see excrement being put neatly into a little bag and thrown away rather than serving as the primary topic in a rally speech. 

But I also feel like, if you don’t want a dog and don’t have time for a dog, don’t get a dog! That’s a living organism that deserves someone at least theoretically enthused about being responsible for its care. If that’s not you, I don’t wish it on the dog. 

Best 40th birthday gift-- a friend's sisters surprised her with a trip to the Fountain of Youth in FL. I "took her on the trip." She didn't know her sisters would be there. In the ordering / mailing category, I'd do a gift pack of books and movies that came out the year of the person's birth. Bonus if you can get some retro candy for movie watching.

Wait, where is the Fountain of Youth? I want to hear more about this!

It's more fun if you are there but what about having her try 40 new things over the course of the year? Things could be as small as sending a new food, beer or wine. It could be tickets to a local play. A movie pass to a new film she might not otherwise go to. A new book or magazine issue. It could be a lesson for cooking/dance/sport. Scale it back to 4 new things if need be. (Although I could probably go for 40 hit quality chocolate truffles come to think of it).

Ooh, that could be fun! I would put that firmly and enthusiastically in the category of “Things That Might Be Enjoyable If Someone Else Organizes Them.”

Give the sister an experience. Tickets to a performance or an outdoor event or something like that.

I went to visit him this morning, found him in his favorite chair, but he seemed kind of...stiff. (too soon?)

I don’t think this is too soon, unless the statue of Lincoln at the Memorial recently suffered some kind of setback of which we were unaware! 

He seems very happy in that chair. 

I am taking an Uber home from work , because I realized that this cold is more deadly than I had first thought, and my driver is blaring Copacabana. Do I say something or just accept that this is just the type of day I am destined to have?

I would lean into that type of day, but you could also gently say “I cannot copa,” and see what ensues. 

Instead of a generic Harry&David's pears, pick food from a geographic location that is meaningful to your relationship. Did you once have a fun time in NYC...order NY Cheesecake. Perhaps, Bar b Que sauce from Memphis. Crab cakes from Eastern shore. I've majored in on-line food gift giving.

Augh. This sets an impossibly high bar for everyone else in the sister's life, as well as for reciprocity and the next milestone birthday.

That’s a fair point — you have just altered the incentive structure to be rooting against her turning 80...

If you have enough time, why not contact family and friends and have them write about things they have done with the birthday person. Family members could remember childhood birthdays and other special occasions. Friends could write about shared experiences: the prom, college road trips, work horror stories, etc. I bet the recipient would like that.

Oh, that sounds really thoughtful and lovely! But labor-intensive, and something you’d need to start pretty early to finish by the deadline! 

How about a box of "memories" of growing up together: favorite candy or toy, pictures of places they went as children, old photos, other mementos of their childhood. Definitely more time consuming than ordering something online but also more memorable.

It's got cheesy mannequins and everything! And the water is very... minerally.

Wow I love it! 

I am here on behalf of all the people who are not interested in dogs, or pets in general, and do not want them. Our indifference to pets in general -- and stories about and pictures of your pets -- does not make us untrustworthy or bad people. (Cruelty to animals is different, of course.) There are plenty of good reasons not to trust Trump, but his lack of a dog is not one of them.

Thank you! That last sentence especially. 

Smith Island Cake is always a winner. Or crab cakes. Or a lot of places sell State care packages which contain food items popular from the state she's from (if she's moved) or is interested in.

I think it would also be funny to get her a State Care package from a state she has no interest or affiliation with, but it is this inability to distinguish between gag gifts and thoughtful gifts that has made me such a hopeless gifter. 

Yes, by all means! In my case, for the holidays I ordered my family and friends a cheese that's made in the village in the Azores where my great-grandfather was from (I've actually toured the factory on a find-your-roots visit!). I located a market (Chaves) in Fall River, MA., that ships online orders, and everyone seemed to enjoy their gift.

Yes! Meaningful Geographic Foods! Also, Meaningful Geographic Foods sounds like the title of an indie band’s poorly received second album. 

While I'm agreeable to the assessment of "if you don’t want a dog and don’t have time for a dog, don’t get a dog," I giggle like a schoolgirl at the idea of the current occupant "not having time" for one. Also, as a counterargument, said as a lifelong "cat guy:" Dogs are great. Despite being a cat guy, we also got a dog, and I love her like almost no other.

I am glad your dog experience has been a positive one! You’re right about the time thing, objectively, but I feel like if someone indicates they won’t make time, believe them! 

This sounds more like punishment than a gift.

This is also a valid response. “Listen, have you considered that I usually do not do these forty things because they bring me NO JOY and I have determined that they are not my bag?”

With all the creative web services available now, you could do what I did myself for my eldest brother's 40th. I gave him a frosted sheet cake with staggered levels for each decade. On each level I stood photos from his life that decade - baby, school years, activities (he was in college theater performances), he & friends put out a record so I had a mini-45, wedding, etc. The very top had the "40" candle. You could also use one of those services to make or create a photo or memory album reflecting the same concept. Especially if you have photos your sibling doesn't have or forgot about -- it's great (I also created my own wrapping paper using old photos for another of his gifts).

Oh my goodness! 

Well this chat is certainly indicating a much higher bar for gift-giving than I had even realized existed! The only downside of that cake would be eating it!

Is a succulent a good gift for a guy you've been dating a month or so? I'm not sure how good he is at actually taking care of plants. I also don't want anything too lovey really hasn't been that long. I'm also hoping he doesn't get me anything too expensive. Thoughts?

I think a succulent sounds ideal. And more romantic than a cactus!

Saying people indifferent to pets and all the present-day hooplah (my babies! carrying them around when there's a reason they have legs), makes them bad people is like saying that people who aren't into helicopter parenting, or parenting in general are bad people. Judging someone's attitudes when you don't know the person's life history, doesn't make you such a prize, either.

Yes to that last sentence especially! As is often the case, good people and bad people can be found on both sides of the pro- and anti-pet divide. Then of course there’s the added level of good/bad person determining difficulty that everyone has different experiences with people — your cherished uncle Richard who loves to give piggy-back rides is the same guy who stealth drowned a man in a butt of wine. 

Your pet is dumb and dirty and smelly.

Oh no, the Discourse!

One of Trump's excuses is apparently not liking how he thinks he'd LOOK walking a dog. For the dog's sake, I'm glad he doesn't have one, although I sure feel for his kid missing out on the experience through no fault of his own.

I don’t know! Not all kids want dogs. I didn’t! I think your first dog, whenever you obtain it, is special and it doesn’t need to be when you’re growing up. 

My dad and godfather got together and sent me a cordless drill. It amused them no end. I'm not sure what the reason was. Maybe to be able to do the hard part of putting together IKEA furiture with handles where you have to actually screw stuff into the particle board? Possibly because I was evidently never going to have a man in my life who would have the drill to do it for me? I love both of them, and they respect me, but it was a dud of a birthday gift.

I, too, am confused by this gift, but I guess it brought them joy? For the next holiday you should get them a gift that will bring you joy and leave them baffled.

I turn 40 this year too and I can not figure out how to celebrate. My cousin graduates from med school the week I turn 40, so I feel like that takes precedence. So, I figure my celebration will be on a different weekend. Activities that I have run up the flagpole- 80s/90s party, dinner party for 40 friends, trip somewhere with just my husband. But, I am liking the 40 new experiences idea so much, I'm thinking no matter what I do, I am going to include that into my 40th year. I am starting my list now.

Hooray! Let us know how it goes!

A party theme I keep trying to make happen is to celebrate the president of the birthday that it is — 31 is your Hoover Birthday, for instance; 26 is your Teddy Roosevelt; 16 is your Lincoln. Then again, that makes 40 your Reagan, and celebration mileage on that varies.  

As pets, wombats (wombies) rule!

Better yet, have a wombat burst out of the cake!

If this chat has taught us anything, it is that food is a good gift. I would offer something comestible. Even if he's not that into you, he probably will share it.

You just haven't realized it yet. But when you need it, you will be thrilled that it's there.

Looks like your godfather is in the chat!

Usually Seattle greets snow like a giddy child...but this is day 5 of it and I'm bored of telecommuting and now my toddler and I are both sick. Send happy thoughts and keep up the chats and articles, its the only thing keeping me sane-ish! Love you and the chatters!

Oh no! I hate being sick! I am trying to fight off a cold myself, right now, but all I have done is eat copious soup and tried to visualize my white blood cells doing victorious battle, so I realize the approach is not exactly scientific. I hope you feel better soon!

Do we run the country into the ground on that day?

Could be a strong theme, though. Set up a dust bowl in lieu of punch... 

It's the closest age when they assumed office. 65 is your James Buchanan birthday.

ooh I like this! This keeps it going for longer! It seems right that you’d learn about dating apps in your Buchanan year. 

Can you see into the future? I turn 74 this year, and I have no idea who'll be President #74.

You should pick someone! Zaphod Beeblebrox!

I'm going to go to 51 new restaurants in a year!

Boy, I sure hope I don’t make it to 365!

Hey, I specifically *asked* for a cordless drill and sander set last year! (25f)

It's obvious that the person who received the cordless drill is destined to undertake an epic quest that will require him or her to make a lot of little holes in things, far from any electrical outlets.

This made me chortle audibly. Now that you know your quest, we can start winding down the chat! Get those final Q’s to P! (hm, I regret this decision to refer to myself as ‘P’ immediately) 

My siblings and I are too old for this, but imagine how delighted my daughter will be to celebrate her Honest Abe this spring! And her sister will get to have a Franklin Pierce year. This way, everyone gets to be Grover Cleveland twice!! I’ll be getting party ideas from the hilarious book “Hottest Heads of State,” which I cannot recommend highly enough.

If you are hopeless, try to keep gifts priceless.

We saw "Tragedy Averted" last Saturday night and almost as good was the ten-minute play that preceded it -- MacBeth with MacDuff as a kind of Inspector Clouseau.

Oh, that sounds amazing! I haven’t seen it but I am going to see if I can rustle up the script!

and it was brilliant. Thank you! Is there any way to get your plays in book form?

Thank you! Not as yet, but if there ever is, you will be the first folks to hear! 

Can you please elaborate on "your cherished uncle Richard who loves to give piggy-back rides is the same guy who stealth drowned a man in a butt of wine"?

You may not consider him your cherished uncle for long, to be fair.

Unrelatedly, if anyone has a horse he could use, he’d appreciate it and give you a kingdom in return! 

When we live in Florida about 20 years ago, both my parents and my inlaws visited. My parents didn't want to go to the fountain of youth, my but the inlaws waded right in. They are still marathoning in their late 70s, my parents both died at 74. Coincidence? We are actually currently living in Florida (again) but leaving soon, and I'm debating getting back for a swim. It's in the panhandle, not spring break territority.

Is this Sponsored Content? I, for one, am convinced by this anecdote and had better book a vacation stat. 

Note that pretty much any natural spring in Florida has some claim on being the fountain of youth. Try Ponce De Leon State Park, it's less commercialized.

And on that note, I’m off! Stay spry, everyone, and good luck with the birthday gifts and dogs! See you next week, and catch you on Twitter (@petridishes) and the blog ( in the interim! 

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Alexandra Petri
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