Weird Bird Stuff, Pride and Prejudice, and the Birthday Situation - ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Mar 31, 2020

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Hello, everyone! Hope you are having a good Tuesday! I am here! Let's converse!

Shouldn't we carry a six-foot stick for social distance measuring?

And speak loudly, so that our voices may carry over that distance. A half-Roosevelt! 

Plays!!! National Theater Live productions that normally cost between $15 and $20 per person for free! On YouTube so you don't have to have twelve premium channels to get the content! Here is an article with an explanation and links.

Ooh, thanks for the suggestion! I hope I have fixed the link in such a way as not to break the chat!

You know that social media app that reminds you whenever it's a friends birthday? So, when there's a birthday, I generally send a chipper "Many Happy Returns of the Day!" to the celebrant, but wow, these days, that sounds weird. I've been trying "Healthy Birthday!" and "Many happy returns of the day in keeping with the situation," but I feel like I'm the only one who knows I'm paraphrasing A Christmas Carol, and why am I paraphrasing A Christmas Carol? Suggestions? I don't have the energy to type "Everything is challenging now, and human connection is valuable, and I hope you have the best day possible in the current world situation" on my smartphone. Thanks.

There is a certain inherent awkwardness in trying to send a normal greeting and I think how you skirt around that -- or sail directly through with an outright acknowledgment -- depends on your relationship to the person. But don't let the Situation prevent you from saying happy birthday! If you can admit that you don't quite have adequate words without turning it into a long panegyric about your inability to generate adequate words, I usually wind up going that route. I do like your "in keeping with the situation," especially when I hear it in the right voice. 

much to my horror, that I have a pen on my desk that declares it is from the "National Chimpanzee Brain Resource." I was sort of hoping that this wasn't what it sounds like, but it basically is. They mostly provide MRI data, though there is something called "fixed tissue" and frozen tissue too, so it isn't all about pictures. Here's the thing. I don't know where I got this pen. I certainly haven't been to this place. I haven't taken biology since 9th grade. The only place I can recall going that had a lot of brain tissue samples was the Museum of the History of Medicine and those are mostly human brains that have been injured in war. Maybe this place provides comparison slides for the people working on human brains? I'm just kind of overall horrified by this. Sorry, not really funny except for not having any idea where I could have picked up such a pen. It seems you would remember it.

I recently noticed that I, too, had a mystery pen that says "Amtrak System Safety" on it! (I know it is bad conversational form to just reply with a story of your own version of the same thing.) I bet you signed something and held onto it; that is usually how I wind up acquiring pens. I am, I think, glad someone is providing a resource to people who want to know more about chimpanzee brains? Unless-- what a way to find out that your restaurant is doing more than meets the eye. 

Hi Alexandra, I live in the country. Social distancing is easier here (except with wildlife). Why doesn't everyone move to the country? T.C.Haydon In the middle of nowhere Canada (Please don't move to Canada)

Hi, TC! Social Distancing (With Wildlife) sounds like an expensive 19th century painting. I think we are stuck in place for the moment! But you see, the city has so many charms *gestures broadly at a place where people gathered in close proximity to do a delightful activity, now closed hopefully for only a brief time* *heaves a heavy sigh* 

How on God's green earth can you justify staying open during this pandemic? YOU ARE NOT VITAL TO LIFE SUSTAINING. Your concerned about losing a dollar .

I actually think that journalism is vital to life-sustaining! That has been driven home pretty forcibly over the last few weeks. When things are going really wrong, you need people able to identify what is happening so that people can band together and do something about it. As for what I do (shrugs generally) I think it is absolutely a good thing that the print newspaper still includes the comics, as a breather, and I hope I can still be a source of levity, interrupted by periodic bursts of rage, as well.  

Hi Ms Petri! (Is it really you? I may swoon). I have a question for Mr Trump's base. If the danger of COVID19 is being overblown by the liberal media to smear Donald Trump... And if the Democrats just want to tank our economy to prevent Trump's reelection ... Then how'd the MSM & the Dems manage to get Mecca, the Vatican, Disneyland Tokyo, the Eiffel Tower, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Taj Mahal, the Louvre, The Great Wall of China, the Venetian canals, the (Roman) Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, Lenin's Tomb on Red Square and The Olympics to play along? Thanks!

I am not sure I am the best way to direct your question to Trump's base, but I am happy to pass it along the next time I get a disgruntled email! Look, it is an open secret that all the places you have mentioned hate to have visitors, derive no pleasure or sustenance from them, and would much prefer to shut their doors and pursue their higher functions in peace, untroubled by people or money or both. Now is simply the time they have given way to that impulse. Everyone knows that the Olympics hate to happen. 

I still prefer the 10-foot pole and have been continuing to use it with most people.

What are you doing to maintain a good mood?

I am not, all the time! I think it's a very scary time and it is okay not to maintain a good mood all the time. Most of the things that have helped me maintain a good mood are advantages I am lucky to possess: I have a job I can do from home, I have a cherished spouse to break the isolation of doing so, we don't have kids yet so there is less to juggle. And even with that, there are times when things feel overwhelming. I am trying to keep a regular schedule, eat food, drink water, go outdoors, talk often to family and friends, and take a break from the Internet every so often. For some reason, I keep getting too distracted when I watch TV and need a full-brain activity where I am forced to generate pictures, so I have been reading more. 

This seems like the longest month -- it's still not quite over! At the same time, how is it already almost April? Time is meaningless. On the bright side (I think -- because 2021 can't be worse, right?), we're a quarter of the way through 2020.

I truly feel that March has lasted six months and this year is going by like molasses. This is the first year in recent years when the sentiment "how is it already almost April?" does not feel right to me. How is it not yet April? It's only April? How are we only a quarter of the way through 2020? 

I'm not finding it particularly necessary to add that to my greetings. Everybody knows what's going on, so a simple "happy birthday" is really all you need.

That too! But I have gotten a surprising number of "in keeping with the situation" notes that were fine as well!

On almost every office birthday card and Facebook prompt for the past 40 years I have simply written: Best Wishes! No one has ever implied that more was necessary.

"Hey, introverts! Get your nose out of that book and call your extrovert friends!" The thing is, as an introvert I don't have a lot of friends to begin with. The people I get along with ARE introverts. Everyone is hunkered down. What can I do to get my happy-at-home friends to talk?

Propose a virtual board game? The Venn Diagram of my introvert friends and my friends who enjoy board games is pretty much a circle, and you can play on somewhere like Steam's tabletop simulator or for free at! 

I'm happy to report that YouTube has full episodes of the exemplary PBS presentation of Jeeves and Wooster with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. S1E1 is at If you can, watch them in order...for full appreciation.

I loved that show very much! No YouTube needed: I own the physical DVD!

But if everyone moved "to the country" it would be like when Yogi Berra said, "It's so popular, no one goes there any more."

My brother and I talked last night about whether it is possible that our mother has already had this thing (seems like it would have been too early, but she was in the hospital for a week and a half with supplemental oxygen for what the docs claimed was mild pneumonia that just didn't seem to quit). My position is that since I think a bad case of Covid-19 would kill her, I am allowed my fantasy that she has already had it because it is the only thing that is likely to protect her. His position is that any case of Covid-19 would likely kill her, so exactly what am I talking about? I think he is probably right since she and my dad live in a continuum of care place and if she had already had it, she would have been patient zero and lots of people they socialize with would have caught it from her, especially our dad, but I'm sort of clinging to my fantasy anyway. This is not normal conversation between us. We do talk about them, but not at this level of "resigned to eventual death."

I don't really have a good response to this! If you need my two cents, I think it is probably a fine fantasy to have secretly for yourself as a source of optimism on her behalf, as long as you still behave as though it is a fantasy and don't relax your vigilance. Not a normal conversation, definitely, but these are not normal times. 

A WSJ story reported that our president has deemed gun stores essential businesses, exempting them from mandated closures. Now I am nervous. Until now, I've been concerned with keeping a reasonable supply of items such as toilet paper, clementines and unsalted peanuts in the shell (my favorite snack item and therefore essential). Should I also be laying in a supply of semi-automatics? And how much ammunition would I need? Are 200 rounds enough? Are 1000 too many? Please advise.

Please! Guns are obviously essential. Toilet paper is for people who don't care enough about the second amendment to incorporate guns into every aspect of their lives! For everyone else, there is the two-ply wiper gun. Guns are also vital for sanitizing surfaces -- you can fire rapidly at the virus to eradicate it. They are also wonderful sources of Vitamin C, I think, but I'm not sure how. 

So why is Gannet furloughing staff if we need them so much?

I wish they weren't! It could not come at a worse time! 

Has anyone else noticed how these days when cars line up at a traffic light, there is frequently a car length space between them rather than the more usual 6 inches? Maybe it's because there are so many fewer cars. Or maybe our AI-empowered smart cars have been listening to the CDC and have started to practice automotive distancing.

I'm assuming that "staying open" for chat hosts like you means working from home as I am supposed to be doing right now. But you're more fun than reading about kidney diseases.

Not a compliment I get often, but I'll take it!

I have set up my work station in a spare bedroom that has a small desk. I sit next to the window, and right outside the window is a crabapple tree; beyond that are arborvitae, which are tall, thin cedar trees that many birds and squirrels nest in every year. Yesterday, a robin decided that it saw a threat to its nest in the form of its reflection in the window, so it spent all day sitting in the tree and flying up to the window to scare away the intruder. Luckily it mostly just swiped the window with its wings or feet and then flew back to the tree, so at least it wasn't being harmed, but it was distracting for my work. It's back again today, and I suspect this will be a problem until I put something on the eaves to scare it away. What would look the scariest to the robin? I don't want to scare away the other birds, just prevent this one bird from its relentless pursuit of an imagined enemy.

Oh no! I don't know what scares robins. Owls, maybe? Do you have a fake owl? Could you make one with a paper plate? 

There were some extremely goofy mourning doves that loved to nest in the absolute worst places at my parents' house, and we had I think a robin that nested right on top of the back door, which we tried to avoid going out of for the several weeks that it was there so as not to bother it. These birds don't know how much we are doing on their behalf! 

Funny that you mentioned taking a turn about the room last week. I coincidentally was re-watching the 1980 BBC production because I discovered it was free on your boss's video provider. I then started watching the 1995 Colin Firth version, which turns out is very...loud. I always had a soft spot for the 1980 version because it was my first discovery of Pride and Prejudice in any form. But maybe on the whole it's just better in spite of rather primitive production values.

I did not know there *was* a 1980 BBC production! Tell me more!

Not so. Mona Lisa has a smile because she gets 10% of the Louvre take.

Alexandra... there are laws protecting children from being juggled. Just thought I let you know before you have a brush with the authorities.

Let us not forget T.S. Eliot's opening line in The Wasteland, "April is the cruelest month..."

Ah but do not forget his line from that other poetic work: "Skimbleshanks, the railway cat. The cat on the railway train." 

The line is: No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

I think I once asked the chat about buying pillows, and you and other people were surprised that I had not seen an annoying pillow commercial on TV. Was that the pillow guy who was at the White House yesterday? (I still have not seen any annoying pillow commercials. But I will not be buying that guy's pillows.)

That was the very man! He loves his pillows! I think my grandparents had one at one point and they thought it was... fine?

I amused myself this morning making a list of Things I'll Do When This Thing Has Passed. No. 1 was Go to the library. No. 2 was Get a haircut.

I am sure regretting not having gotten a haircut four weeks ago! If my hair gets any longer people are going to start assuming that I know about essential oils. 

I really really need to scream but living in a townhouse with very thin walls. Screaming into a pillow is not satisfying, but I don't wish to alarm my neighbors. Is there a polite, socially distant way to let them know they can disregard the primal screaming next door?

You could drop them a line explaining that "at such and such a time, I will be sounding my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world! You are welcome to join!" and then hopefully they will also scream and it won't be weird! Or if you do scream and they don't, they will feel like they are failing to participate in a fun social activity and be chagrined, rather than hearing wild unexplained screaming and being alarmed.

My parents had a male cardinal doing that. The robin is seeing its reflection in the window and thinks it's another male. The simple solution is to shut your blinds/shades so it doesn't see it's reflection. Worked for the cardinal. This means you can't look out but maybe you can keep it open a crack.

baffles me, because you need such a large room to do anything but stretch for a moment. But I suppose this might have been considered sufficient in an age when ladies did not run. Which brings me to my favorite fantasy comfort reading: Louisa May Alcott's "Eight Cousins," a primer for bringing up healthy girls in an age of restrictions. First requirement: untold wealth, a large estate, an enlightened doctor for a guardian, and boy cousins to show you how to play (because of course they all adore you). First prescription: run.

If the 1980 version was the one with Elizabeth Garvey as Ms Bennett, it was far, far superior to the Colin Firth one. Better acting, better scipting. Less dull scenery (the Firth one was 3 hours,the Garvery one was 2 hours). Besides, in the Garvey one, Jane Bennet was actually beautiful, in a quiet understated way, while Firth's Jane was pasty-faced. Austen herself said that Jane Bennet was "the loveliest girl in Wiltshire". Just my humble opinion.

PASTY-FACED! My goodness! I don't know that we should sit here and let people cast such aspersions on 1995 Jane Bennet's honor! 

Maybe they would do better with a "soft sell"?

He should give it a rest. 

Just say you are watching "Network".

Gannett was purchased earlier this year by Gateway Media, which is known for moving in and stripping newspapers of staff to contain their costs. Media watchers figured a Gannett purge was in the offing, but it's so sad it's coming now when we need those reporters and editors.

I have a subscription.

I think I have another book coming out in June? But who knows if that timeline will stick, given the Situation. Another Field Guide? I'm not sure when! 

If you have any stick on decals, they can act as a deterrent to birds who are considering taking a flying leap at your windows. Worked in our office.

I read Emma for the first time ans was a bit taken aback by all the walking going on from house to house. Taking a turn around a room must have just been a way to show off how toned you were.

"Aw yeah, imagine that my calves look amazing! I know you can't see them, but imagine it!"

Closing the blinds has not deterred the robin. Today is a sunnier day, so perhaps there is less of a reflection in the window? I read that putting flashy things on the eaves might help, so I will attempt that if the problem continues. In the meantime, I just wave my arms wildly at the bird and that temporarily scares it away.

Like a robin snooze button! 

We watched it in high school as we were reading the book, and a disproportionate amount of the commentary (including from the teacher!) after focused on Jane's relatively plain appearance.

I once shared a group office space that had some kind of ornamental fruit trees planted outside. The small fruits got fermented on the tree, birds ate them, got drunk, and would fly into the window and break their necks. It happened for the better part of a week. There were literally dozens of bird bodies outside.

Oh my goodness! I wish there were a way to put up warning signage in bird terms, but if the birds were flying over the bodies of their fallen comrades to eat the fermented fruit, I don't know how else to signal to them. 

The CDC has moved April Fools' Day to September 15.

This seems correct. No pranks, please!

Walking around the room was what ladies did when it was raining out. Some large houses had a tremendously long room, usually in the attic, called the Long Gallery, just for this purpose.

Everyone looked exactly as they should. You could easily see why the masses thought Jane was the prettiest, but see that Elizabeth could be admired for her looks in an entirely different way, particularly her eyes. And Darcy was way more handsome than Colin Firth in a totally aloof sort of way that was perfect. Also, none of this nonsense about Darcy being so hot and bothered that he plunged into the pond in the FRONT of the house for a swim with most of his clothes on. Didn't gentlemen swim naked in much more discrete locations at the time? Also, it was 6 hours so it actually got through a decent part of the plot.

I'd never thought until now that with all the strolling about in the countryside, not to mention taking turns around the living room, the young women in Jane Austen must have been pretty shapely. In the traditional movie and tv versions, the women all wear enormous dresses while the men wear those tight-fitting pants. A modern version could have the women wearing yoga pants and sports bras, while the men wear, I dunno, skinny jeans or something. Not Mr Bennett, of course.

Mr Bennett can wear skinny jeans if he wants to, but... you are right that he would not want to. 

Can you confirm that you will still be able to chat with us? So many of the WaPo chats have disappeared in the last month or so. I miss them, and would miss yours, too.

I will fight for the right to chat! I love this chat! It's a highlight of my week, and I would miss it! I am not going anywhere!

What about a photograph of a cat?

That's what Mr. Darcy said, when scheming Miss Bingley invited him to join her on her turn. "You are conscious that your figures appear to better advantage when walking, and I can admire you better from where I sit."

... put up a plastic owl.

Jane in 1995 had the big blue eyes and pretty smile that was the fashion then. Elizabeth had the "beautiful dark eyes" Mr. Darcy noted, but Jane was more conventionally pretty.

The online Lizzie Bennet Diaries was pretty cute and I watched it in real time so kept waiting for a new vlog to be posted each week.

Whoa, you watched in real time? That's awesome. You really were there on the ground floor! 

The drunk bird thing happens primarily to cedar wax wings eating crab-apples that have fermented on the tree over the winter. I see it every spring in the park down the block from my house

I have learned a lot about Alarming Bird Accidents this chat! 

According to IMDB there is also a 1940 version, 1980 mini-series,1995, 2003, as well as 2016, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (Seriously!)

I very much dislike Jane Austen, but the Bollywood version of P&P ("Bride and Prejudice) was a delight. Enjoyed it even more because I got to see it on a college field trip of sorts...

That was costumed out of period because the studio had all these hoop skirts with leg-o'mutton sleeves from other productions. It was good except for Lady Catherine turning good at the end, and for Maureen O'Sullivan for being suitably beautiful but not plausible as Greer Garson's older sister.

I say the1940 movie when I was in high school, in the early 1970s. It did not follow the book accurately. I remember the women dressed in heavy Victorian dresses, instead of the demure Regency costumes of Austen's time and they were heavikly into archery. It was your typical heavy-handed badly done American version and reflected the thinking of the times.

With this range of viewpoints on the 1940 Pride and Prejudice, I will leave you! 

Laurence Olivier was an excellent Darcy.

Have a good, safe week everyone! I will be on the blog and on Twitter, and I will see you here next Tuesday! 

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.
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