Chatological Humor (Jan. 15)

Jan 15, 2019

Today's poll.

You asked for it and you got it. Gene will now be holding weekly mini-chats, where he takes your questions about what's happening in the country — and anything else you want to discuss.

Good afternoon.

Many, many years ago, I knew this guy.  He was a friend of mine.   Funny, smart, engaged, charming.    Some people didn't like him because he was also kinda brash.  I liked him. As with several people in my life -- particularly people with whom I worked -- an intriguing temperament  and vibrant humor and intellect outweighed other things I considered less important.   It's easy to find a tactful person; but how often do you find someone with a strong and intriguing personality? In this guy's case, his most winning trait was stubbornness: he was a mule.  it was kind of adorable.  He would NEVER give up or give in on an argument, particularly when he was losing.  He found this funny, as did you.  Sometimes his indomitability wound up being persuasive.  You could not ignore this guy, in a good way.

Over the years, though, this guy became a little less interesting.   I actually believe there was some mental deterioration.  He began to lose the charm and wit.  His sarcasm became less rooted in fact, and more in meanness.  Until finally, he had only one trait left.   His stubbornness.  It remained intact, and, exposed naked and alone, it became absurd and intolerable.  It occurred to me that he probably knew what was happening, and was holding on to this trait because it was the only thing over which he felt any power.

Anyway, I am not going to ID him here.  But I will say that this is exactly what I see happening with Trump.   If you'd lived through what I did with this guy, you'd see it, too.  It's scary. 


A quick story from Sunday night.  It is involved with Judaism, which is my proud ethnic heritage.   I arrived at my local Harris Teeter around 5 p.m.   It was an asylum. A snowstorm had just been forecasted, and Washingtonians were making the desperate final grab for intimate paper products, peanut butter (chunky, yecch), milk (2 percent, yecch) cat litter and other such indispensables.  Not being an ahole, my visit was unrelated to the snow: I would be alone for the evening, and wanted dinner for one.  I went to the fresh meat and seafood section, and it was ... empty.

Empty not as in shopped out, but empty as in no one was there.  No foodstuffs were on display.  The light was off.  I eventually found the fish guy, who told me that everyone had called in coward,  (This is like "called in sick" but really was about not wanting to brave the elements of what would turn into a 4-inch snowstorm.) 

It turns out the only thing that could be sold on Sunday at Harris Teeter from their meat and fish section was a single live lobster.  Alone in the tank.   At $15 a pound, this fine lady cost $27.49.  

I thought.  Pondered.  Plotted.  And bought her.

My ethnic heritage was kicking in.  We Jewish people are skilled at retail.  If you find what follows to be offensive, you probably are not Jewish.  

So, the lobster (I named her Rebecca Le Beouf) was my only purchase.  When I arrived at checkout, I asked to speak to the manager.  (Note: This did not inconvenience others.  My "case" was taken off to the side.)

I was nice.  I told the truth: That I had arrived to buy dinner from either fish or meat, and discovered, to my discomfort, that neither section was open, owing not to any emergency, but to the disconcerting laziness of their staff.  And that because I was hungry, I wound up paying ridiculously more than I had intended for a dinner for one BECAUSE IT WAS LITERALLY THE ONLY THING AVAILABLE. 

The manager's eyes met mine.  She smiled.  She did some keyboard thing at the cash register and asked for my credit card. 

Yeah, free.  Free live lobster.

I am telling this story for the benefit of all my many goyish friends.  Sometimes, if you have the facts behind you, and you have the requisite nerve, it is appropriate to kvetch.   In this case, I believe both I and the manager felt better afterwards -- me, toward her store, and she toward her  store as well.  I felt this would be a story told at their next managerial meeting, for the benefit of all. Win, win.    


Okay, please take the poll.  We start at noon sharp.


I'm assuming that being "good at" Substance Abuse means I don't abuse substances, that's why I picked it. What I'm good at is jury-rigging, Macgyvering, making do. So if I made twice as much money (lord, which still isn't much) would I lose that happiness? I'm willing to find out!

Understood.   When I read "jury-rigging," my initial thought was that you bribed jurors.

Speaking of which, and speaking of non-fiction, you all should read "The People v. Clarence Darrow," by Geoffrey Cowen.

Darrow, who was a hero in my home growing up (my grandpappy tried a murder case with him) was a criminal.  He jury tampered.

I am pretty happy with my life but the lubrication of stressors probably would make me happy/ier. Esp with kids, I wouldn't mind some more help around the house (also see: most dysfunctional at housekeeping). Being a fiction writer would theoretically also free me from being chained to a desk from 9am–6pm.

Yeah.   I am stunned by the percentage of people who feel that doubling their income wouldn't make them happier.  I don't consider myself a particularly material person -- you don't go into journalism if you are -- but I think doubling my income would  bring substantial more peace of mind.  I'd like to hear more from those who disagree.   (Oh, and for reasons I will express separately, fiction would not be my way to go.)

All I can say is that the people who want to be fiction writers have no idea what it takes to plant your butt down and strip-mine your soul in the pursuit of just the right word -- over and over and over.

Exactly!  That would be my last choice. 

I have said before, and really believe, that as much as I love/hate writing nonfiction with enormous passion, it at least offers a sort of comfort: You are telling a story, as best you can, based on truth and facts and things that actually happened, and your job is to marshal them.  There is, theoretically, the Best Possible Way to tell the story of The Great Zucchini, or Kids Who Die in Cars, or the Joshua Bell Concert.   You may not ever reach it -- I surely didn't -- but there is, at least theoretically, a Goal. 

With fiction, there is no such thing out there.  You are limited not by established facts but only by the limits of our own creativity, and the boundaries there are endless.  Endless.  You cannot aspire to Perfection because where the possibilities are infinite, there can BE no perfection.

Aaaargh.  No fiction for me.


I love how what you consider to be a quintessentially Jewish tale centers around eating shellfish. Better, I bet the irony has not even occurred to you. You are a spectacularly Jew-free Jew.

Yes, and yes, and yes.

Though i consider myself thoroughly Jewish.  Dietary laws are not about humor, smarts, neurosis, or anything else I consider quintessentially Jewish.

How did you cook Rebecca Le Beouf?

The way I learned years ago.  Knife deep to brain.   After which she is dead.  Then boil.   Sorry about all this, but it took me 30 years to learn the most humane way.  "Consider the Lobster" by David Foster Wallace helped.

There's an inconsistency here: You said "kvetch," but then "requisite nerve." Shouldn't it be "requisite chutzpah"? Also, isn't lobster trayf? If you kept kosher, would you get dispensation because nothing else was available?

Lobster is trayf.  I do not keep kosher.

Speaking of cheap meals, I hope at least some of today's chat is dedicated to the news that the Prez served the NCAA Division I-A football champion Clemson Tigers fast food (McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's) during their White House visit. Considering the racial makeup of the team, am I wrong to feel there's an element of racism to this?

I don't see racism.  I do see idiocy.  The president is an idiot.  Horrifying judgment.

It would be a big seller.

It would not.

What percentage of men, even the sort of guy who would buy this product, would ever show another guy his poop?

Obviously, no woman on earth would.

So I just think this product is doomed.

I was at the Caps game, drank a few beers, ran out to the bathroom at the break between the second and third periods, finally got to the urinal with a sense of urgency, couldn't find the opening in front of my boxers, finally figured out that I had put my underwear on backward earlier in the day.

I bet ladies have an equal or better one.  Ladies?

Also, I would just like to point out that 57 percent of men pee over the top of their undies, whatever sort of undies they have.  This is a figure I just made up, but that I will defend to my dying day.

I think the primary enablers, people like Mitch McConnell and Don McGahn (and not the clowns like Nunes and Giuliani) - that is, the people who know better - need to be shunned in public for the rest of their lives. Civilly, politely, but emphatically shunned.

Like if they go into a busy restaurant, you take their name but never call it?  And when they ask, you just look over their shoulder for the next person?

Bad idea.  Let's not do it.

Or, wait, like if they are at a baseball game you accidentally spill beer on them as you are going to your seat?

Nah, bad idea.

I'd welcome other bad ideas here, so we can trash them and urge people not to do them.



But the poll said, "Assume you will have the requisite skills and knowledge". I assumed that meant I was good at it.

Having the skill and wanting the awful dreadful heartache and self doubt are two different things.

I feel I have skill at nonfiction storytelling.  But I still spent four years longer writing my book than I expected to, because I AM A HORRIBLE INCOMPETENT WHO CANNOT WRITE.

But they're about nitpicking and hairsplitting, aren't they? Aren't those quintessentially Jewish? I ask as an anthropologically curious Gentile.

Nah.  Most religions have dietary laws, no?

Because I'm no good with money. I thought you were too, man. I thought we understood each other.

In taking the poll "good at money" would have been my first choice for dysfunction, followed very closely by housekeeping inadequacy.

I said I am best at Social/extrovert skills. This is a lie, borne of two truths. I believe I do have areas of competence, and *professionally* I am actually capable of being an excellent therapist, but personally I am bad at making social connections. And at 30something I’m still dreaming of being a ballerina!

I am 67 and have not entirely ruled out second baseman for the Yankees. I do realize it is a bit unrealistic, but the kid they have now is a rookie, with flaws.

On an almost daily basis my wife will rail against New York for not doing something years ago to stop Trump. As more and more malfeasance comes to light and criminal conduct stretching back decades gets discussed, she correctly, I think, asks: where the hell was the State of New York law enforcement agencies? It seems like his shady and potentially criminal conduct was well known, so why didn't state or city law enforcement do something to bring this malign presence to justice thus preventing the currently presidency from ever arising. Do you think there is any merit to this?

Yes, I do.   I wonder -- unfairly, without proof -- whether palms were greased.

You wrote on twitter that Trump loyalists don't care about the non-stop lying, because they accept that about him and like him anyway. Presumably the same is true about Russia and collusion. I think the only thing that would bring him down is if he is caught disparaging his base, because that would be the ultimate betrayal. That's the real smoking gun people should be looking for-- although, given his lack of discipline, I'm surprised it hasn't happened already.

But it would have to be undeniable, because of his lies.  If, for example, he was caught telling a roomful of people that his followers were all gullible idiots, we'd need a video, and audio, and 40 witnesses, b/c otherwise he just says, Nah, never happened.  And they buy it. 

This morning the mobile app for Penatgon Federal Credit Union says “Happy MLK Day!” It’s not, is it? This immediately made me worry that Trump is re-making the calendar and that my next birthday will fall on the 25th of Ivanka and that my colonoscopy is scheduled for the 6th of Jared.

Tragically, today is King's actual birthday.  So nothing to see here.

With all due respect to your poll takers, Gene, they're idiots -- at least all of those who chose "fiction writer" as their dream occupation. I'm not a writer but I work in a creative field where I make to make something out of nothing over a period of months. I'm pretty good at it, I'm fairly successful, have a good international reputation in my field, and I don't want to do anything else, and it SUCKS. It's HARD. It's tortuous work, it follows you all the time, your brain never shuts off, it breeds self-doubt, and the fear of failure is constant. I completely understand why so many writers are drunks, and some days I wish I had just gone to law school.

I believe we are achieving a consensus here, about fiction writing.  Not sure Stephen King would agree, but then againhis net worth is $756,092,996,940 plus googol. 

I chose No to the question of whether I'd be substantially happier bc of the qualifier. I would be more relaxed about our ability to handle long-term debt and retirement, but really, I'm pretty happy now. I assume that's what you were going for.

I am thinking your answer should have been yes.

I don't have kids, have maxed my 401k since I was 25, and live in a 600 sf apartment. I own my own business, which does fine, but that's less important to me than having the freedom to do my own thing. So 2x money wouldn't make me substantially happier.

Hm.  Okay

I said I wouldn't be happier with twice the income because I'd probably have more than twice the stress and responsibility. I have a very good work-life balance right now, and I actually am not sure I want to be promoted. I will probably be able to retire at around 55, when my kid is done with college, and unless the markets still have not recovered, we'll probably be able to travel and live at least as well as we do now. So yeah, I'm fine coasting, so to speak, and doing what I do now, as I'm well-paid, treated well, and my skills and experience are respected.

Well, this makes me feel good for all of us.  Thanks.

Hey, I forgot to mention something!   I am going to have to split about 15 minutes early from the chat.   To make up for it, I will recite a fine Piet Hein poem as I go.

I have a very nice wife and two almost grown children. Even though my kids have been wonderful, I still know that my life would have been substantially happier without them because I worry about them all the time. It affects my sleep and health. This is still true even though they are now ready to graduate from college and get good jobs. Is there any way at all I can admit this them now that they are adults? Or do I take this secret to the grave? Thanks.


Most dietary laws spring from empirical problems. Someone eats moldy cheese with a poorly cooked steak, and bam, there is a law preventing the consumption of meat and dairy together. So: smarts.

But no longer applicable!  Anciently logical. 

Gene, My linen of reasoning parallels yours, both in respect to doubling of salary and preferred line of work. No way I would try to write fiction. I could make a decent effort at journalism. A couple of years at double my current salary would give me and my wife financial peace of mind for most of the rest of our lives.


When you posted your intro or went live, the link to the poll disappeared! I want to see how I compare to the rest of the Generati.

Hm.  Anyone else experience this?

I picked that having twice my income wouldn’t make me happier, because I already have enough money that I don’t stress about it too much. Some of this is by luck (my husbands family is somewhat wealthy) and some by choice (we intentionally live a simpler life than we could theoretically afford). If I needed to count my pennies every month I would have definitely picked happier.


Guy who wears undies that don't have a fly here. Mine haven't had a fly for probably 30 years. It does cause the elastic to wear out faster doing it that way though.

Mine HAVE flies, and I still go over the top. 

You need to add an "all of the above" answer. I am so dysfunctional in so many of these areas that I think it's only social competence that supports the perception that I'm a contributing member of my community.

I hear ya.

I was in Austin, TX for a conference and the night before I was supposed to fly out there was a snow & ice storm forecast. I was hanging out in the lobby of my hotel, because that was the only place I could find decent wifi signal. While there the hotel's shift changed. The departing shift was doing their best to assuage the fears of the overnight staff that they weren't going to die a cold, icy, & painful death, and not doing a particularly good job of it. As a northern southerner, I got to feel a bit of yankee weather smugness.

I lived for two years in East Lansing, MI.     The schools were not closed for 14 inches of snow. 

Studies have shown that once you have enough money to buy everything you need and have enough left over to buy some of your wants, having more money doesn't make you any happier. We are middle-class, own our house, were able to pay for our daughter's college, have been to Europe several times, Australia, have a nice car and an extra old one etc. We have secure (so far) pensions from the federal government, health insurance and even some Social Security. So what more do we need? A bigger house- nope it's already more than big enough for 2 people. Another car? How many cars can 2 people drive? More trips? Travel is ok but very tiring for me. Better health would be good at our age but you can't buy that.

Could I have your extra old car?

I am a 50-yr-old never-married woman without children. Earlier in life, already knowing I didn't want kids, I figured I was headed down easy street: I make a decent income and figured not having to support dependents, pay for college, etc., would translate to financial security -- if not abundance. As I moved into my 40s, I realized having a second household income makes all the difference in the world, kids or no. I suppose it doesn't help that I find myself in a rent-controlled apartment in a location where I'll never afford to buy a home (Bay Area). In fact, I probably still could not, even if my salary were doubled. But I'd still take it.

Me, too

Beets. "Beeturia" is an actual word for the red urine you get the next day. I don't know if there's a word for "Beet -poopia" but plenty of people have been frightened by it, thinking there's blood in their urine and poop.

One of my most-shared tweets was something like this:  "I love you all and appreciate your following me these many years, more than I can adequately express.  I hope that..."  Oh, wait.  Had beets for dinner.   Never mind.

I’m a long-time playwright and I’ve made a total of nearly $8,000 from it over 30 years. Of course, that’s probably $7,500 more than most playwrights. #WhatAndGiveUpShowBusiness

Then there is the other side 


I have written four plays / screenplays.  I have made a fairly substantial amount of money doing it -- way more than you have -- and yet NOT A SINGLE WORD HAS EVER BEEN PERFORMED.

Gene, I was lucky to be on a Federal contract that was already funded but those funds ran out last Friday. Now I'm burning leave time with nothing to do. I can't even clean because we have maid service twice a month. What to do? Should I start a novel?


Maybe a historical novel.   The more non-fiction the better.

Do you think that Trump is an unwitting Russian agent or is he knowingly conspiring with the Russian government to ruin the USA?

It's a tough one.

This is going to sound snide, but I mean it sincerely.  If Trump had the intelligence of Obama, I'd be SURE these were deliberate acts of treason.  But I do believe he is essentially an idiot, so all of this could be a stumblebum stumbling into treason.

You chatted about this on 1/8/19. It showed up in this NPR report about R. Kelly on 1/10/15, at about the 0:50 mark. What are the odds?

How the HELL did you find this?


I'm not sure he's using the term quite correctly, but I won't nitpick unless readers want me to.

You go to a good therapist and learn to worry less.

Also a good answer.  

I never take a free meal, free lobster, etc. when I complain to a manager. I never want the manager to somehow think that the reason I am complaining is that I just am cheap and making something out of nothing and wanted something for free. That fact alone is always worth more to me than the price of a meal or lobster.

Understood!  But... in this case, the truth of my allegation was obvious, and they were embarrassed by it.

So, do we (1) applaud the Republicans who are finally disavowing this long-time-obvious racist, while still ignoring the President's basically-the-same stuff because progress is progress, or (2) ignore it because they're just throwing the guy overboard now that his embarrassment outweighs his usefulness?

Hey, this is a minor step.  Coming out vs. racism is not negligible: Being willing to confront and upset your party's Racist Bloc.    However:  King is no longer important to the 'pubs, when you think about it.  Minority congressman.

I live in a red area, surrounded by Trump voters. The ONLY thing they care about is money. If they see the economy faltering and the stock market crashing, they'll abandon him. Fox will too, as money is all they care about too.

Kinda makes in confusing about what we Decents should root for, you know?

Reads like troops are about to disembark from their WW 1 trench and charge the enemy line.

I think of it that way, too.

I didn't even KNOW you could go over the top of the waistband until I started following this chat. I still think this is some sort of humblebragging.


What would we goy be offended by? Your getting such a deal? Or that you were kinda ragging on your own people. If it's the former, I'm not so much as offended as I am jealous.

No, it's the latter.  But I am happy that there has been no such reaction.

They just signed former All-Star keystoner DJ LeMahieu. I think you might have to increase your workouts. I mean, if working out is part of your strategy.

No need.  I have the SMARTS. 

For one thing, it's more of a lazy stereotyponym. Playing video games professionally is a lot of effort and travel, as described in the originally linked article. I mean you can be a codger about this if you like, but you should at least be an informed codger. Make an informed codging decision, you know? Codge well. And anyway, how can it be an aptonym if there's a profession that's clearly far better suited for the name?

You make a reasonable point.  Two, actually.   "Loafman" would be a better aptonym for a baker or, hm, maybe a proctologist?

As far as "loafing" and "gaming" -- also, a reasonable point.   I have an unusual observation, perhaps.  Can you consider something a sport if success at it depends on navigating a set of challenges created by humans?  In other words, where you are learning to steer through protocols and actions and reactions  invented by people situationally?  Its not like a game of chess, or car racing, where the in-game options are essentially limitless?

Does this make sense?  I am only asking a question and would welcome others' views.  And yes, I am a curmudgeon 

It wasn’t included, but my most dysfunctional thing would be personal care. I need to eat better, work out, manage stress better, etc.

Good point.

I don't think he has aided Russia unwittingly. Neither does he have the conviction of a Russian spy. Rather, he does what Putin tells him as a. he admires strongmen and b. they own him financially. The lengths he went to to conceal his talks with Putin do not seem like the act of someone who doesn't know what he's doing.

He knows what he is doing.  I don't think he knows WHY in the largest sense.   Why is the hardest of the six W's.

Thread-weaving: In San Francisco, Carol Channing was VP of her elementary school class in 6th grade. Class President was George Fenneman, of "You Bet Your Life" fame (where Groucho always had a secret word for which the duck would bring down a $50 bill).

Noted.  And RIP Carol.  

I've given this some thought and determined that the bacon cheeseburger is offensive to the widest array of religions of any food. Jews: bacon and meat+dairy. Muslims: bacon. Hindus, Jains, and many Buddhist: beef. That's not even getting into all the gluten-free vegans. Thank goodness I'm Catholic (though I can't even eat it on Lenten Fridays).

I once had an awkward moment where the family of a girlfriend served ham and suddenly realized I might, you know....   I said, solemnly, that I kept to dietary laws of my people but that this prohibited only bananas. sss

Okay, I go now.  End with a joke.

Right on target.   So a Catholic Priest and a rabbi are having dinner.  They have been close friends their whole lives, and are both nearing retirement age.   The priest asks the rabbie, So, Mordechai, tell me -- did you ever try ham?   

And Mordechai drops his head, and says, yes, I did, once.   And then he asks, "So, Patrick, tell me did you ever try ... a woman? "

And Patrick sheepishly admits that he did, once.

Mordechai:  "So, Patrick, tell me... was it better than ham?"

Okay, end of chat.  Next week.  I love you all.

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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

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