Chatological Humor with Gene Weingarten

Mar 31, 2020

You asked for it and you got it. Gene holds weekly mini-chats every Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET, where he takes your questions about what's happening in the country — and anything else you want to discuss.

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Good afternoon. 

Well, this sheltering in place is interesting, isn't it?  I will make just a couple of personal observations, because personal observations are tedious.  Conversations happen, though, because of extended time in close quarters.  For example, Rachel held out one of these corkscrews and said, and I am quoting verbatim, "Everyone knows how this looks like a robot with armpit hair, right?"

John Prine is being treated for coronavirus, but seems to be out of the woods.  It did cause me enormous grief, because I love this guy, and not just because he gave me a really good column.  I think he is the second greatest living songwriter (more on this later in the chat) and a fine man.  But because these are times for tedious reflection, it did cause me to remember my second most important eggcorn.  John has a very deep southern accent, and for years I misunderstood the first few words of his great song "New Train."  I heard them as "Four blown salads in an empty room," which made some sense, even in context.   I imagined vomit.  

Anyway, that led indirectly to my most recent revelation, which happened just yesterday, again, due to close quarters and insipid dialog.  I just now learned for the first time that the main lyric of Patti Smith - Springsteen "Because the Night" is NOT "The night belongs to Lobo."  

Okay, we start at noon. 

She DEFINITELY sings Lobo.   Though. 


I started feeling ish yesterday so took my temp at 4p and it was 100.1. By the time I went to bed it was back to normal & was normal again this morning. I've been distancing pretty severely for 12 days- no take out, only two grocery runs both at off times with gloves (& a mask for the second), I live alone & not working thanks to the shutdown, not even doing 6+ft socializing- apart from widely passing a few people on early morning runs in my 'burb (wide streets +little foot traffic) haven't been anywhere near other humans. I'm still real worried. I don't believe the death stats coming out of china- the funeral home distribution rates tell a much different story- and there mounting that being relatively young & healthy doesn't help as much as you'd think (I'm late 30s & an avid runner & general health nut).

You will be fine. 

Most of us will be.   But we will be nervous as hell.  I have often woken up with a mild (probably snoring related) sore throat, but now it scares me.   For no logical reason.  

I take it you disdain jigsaw puzzles because they're not intellectually challenging. But do they have to be to be worthwhile? Isn't a pastime that engages your attention for a while just fine?

Well, this is a fair question.   I think you are right, except I favor things that are intellectually stimulating.  

Who would you pick if you were Joe? Sen. Kamala Harris, the African American senator from California, who as a prosecutor opposed the death penalty for a copkiller? Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Midwesterner with a "mean streak" against her staff? Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the Hispanic protege of Harry Reid, but who has only been in the Senate for four years?

Klobuchar.   Reason coming in a column. 

I love crosswords, have been doing them since high school (20+yrs) . I do both the WaPo and NYT daily and my average Sunday NYT time is 25m. Not trying to brag (ok maybe a little- i worked hard on increasing my speed!), just give context. Acrostics have never appealed but since I know they have their rabid fans, decided a few months ago to do the Sunday NYT mag one. First go was confusing and annoying and tedious but I finished. But, new things are challenging and get more fun as you get better, so I kept going. I've now done 12. I'm better though still not great, which is fine, but omg they are still tedious and boring. The constant moving of letters and marking and sussing out all for the "pay off" of a quote that has yet to get more than an "...and?". I can see that the construction of them must a real skill, but as a solver, I hate them more each week. What am I missing? And though I know I may incur your decision for hating a thing you love, do I also have your dispensation to give up on them forever, or is this not enough of "the old college try"?

Honestly, I don't know.  To me, acrostics are the best puzzles ever invented (by the great Elizabeth Kingsley in 1934) because of their complexity: You have three separate challenges, answers to clues, answers to a quote, and the name of the author.   But part of my love for them might be that my mother introduced them to me when I was about ten, and we didn't have the closest relationship but we totally bonded over them.  Also, the Times constructors, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, are good friends of mine.  So mebbe I am weirdly prejudiced. What I absolutely am sure about is that Word Find puzzles are for morons. 

I feel we have reached the equivalent of Trump shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, and he is right. Agree?

It is beyond belief to me that his approval ratings are rising.  I think it is the "we are at war and must support the leader" phenomenon  but we clearly have the worst possible person at the worse possible time.  Essentially, the stupidest human on Earth is president of the united states. 

You can't lump the two together. Word searches can be done in fairly short order with a boring, systematic search. Start with word #1. Proceed through the grid til you find its first letter. See if that letter is connected to the word's second letter, etc. Jigsaw puzzles generally require some planning, like tackling edge pieces first, or grouping parts of the picture together. Jigsaw puzzles can also be easily done by a group, which is part of the appeal.

Noted.  I will be writing about this.  I cannot understand why anyone would waste time on a jigsaw puzzle.  An enormous commitment of time to a mindless pursuit.  However "word find" puzzles are a far more idiotic event.   

Okay, so many of you know that I revere Bob Dylan.   Best songwriter of my generation.  Genius.  His new song is being revered.  It is terrible. 
It was a dark day in Dallas November 63
The day of haunted infamy -- HAUNTED INFAMY?
President Kennedy was riding high
Good day for living and a good day to die WHAT?
Being led to to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb WE GOT TRITE RIGHT HERE
He said “wait a minute boys you know who I am?”
“Course we do we know who you are,”
Then they blew off his head why they were still in the car HORRIBLE LYRIC 
Shot down like a dog in broad daylight DOGS ARE SHOT DOWN?
Was a matter of time and the time it was right
You’ve got unpaid debts, we’ve come to collect
We’re going to kill you with hatred without any respect WE'RE GOING TO KILL YOU WITHOUT ANY RESPECT?
We’ll mock you and shun you and put it in your face PUT IT IN YOUR FACE?
We’ve already got someone here to take your place
The day they blew out the brains of the king
Thousands were watching no one saw a thing
It happened so quick so quick by surprise
Right there in front of everyone’s eyes
Greatest magic trick ever under the sun
Perfectly executed skillfully done
Wolf-man oh wolf-man oh wolf man howl
Rub a dub dub its a murder most foul RUB A DUB?
Hush little children you’re gonna stand
The Beatles are coming they’re going to hold your hand
Slide down the Bannister go get your coat
Ferry cross the Mersey and go for the throat
There’s three bums coming all dressed in rags
Pick up the pieces and order the flags
I’m going to Woodstock its the Aquarian age
Then I’ll go to ? and sit near the stage
Put your head out the window let to good times roll
There’s a party going on behind the grassy knoll PREVIOUS STANZA PRETTY GOOD
Stack up the bricks k , pour the cement
Don’t say Dallas don’t love you Mr President
Put your foot in the tank and let’s step on the gas
Try to make it to the triple underpass
Black faced singer white faced smile
Better not show your faces after the sun goes down
I bet the red light district make a cop on the beat
Living in a nightmare on elm street
When your down on deep elm put your money in your shoe
Don’t ask what your country can do for you
Cash on the barrel head , money to burn
? Plaza make a left hand turn
I’m going down to the crossroads gonna flag a ride
The place where faith hope and charity died
Shoot em while they runs boy shoot em while you can
See if you can shoot the invisible man
Goodbye Charlie goodbye uncle Sam
?Frankly Miss Scarlet I don’t give a damn
What is the truth and where did it go?
Ask Oswald and Ruby they oughta know
Shut your mouth say the wise old owl
Business is business and its a murder most foul

Last I heard he was 'stable' not to mean improving. Stable is better than not, but...

We'll  see.   His wife seemed encouraged. 

What do you think of Dylan's first new song in about a decade -- a 17-minute reflection on the Kennedy assassination, popular culture, life in general -- "Murder Most Foul"? Some of the lyrics are kind of ... simple? silly? But I'm of the opinion that Bob can do whatever he wants, however and whenever he wants. So I like it.

You now know. 

Isn't that a mondegreen?


Daughter scared me today with text that Tomie DePaola (author of Strega Nonna) died at her hospital today. But it was the result of a fall. Not that it makes me feel much better as he was only a few years older than my husband who has fallen a couple of times in the last 3 years. But I worry about her even though she's working with neonates and I worry about her former med school classmate friends who are working in NYC in hospitals there. Are veterinarians still working? Are you the one who said people bring there dogs and put them in the vet's waiting room with a leash while they wait outside and the vet takes it from there? Any sign that animals besides bats can transmit coronavirus?

I don't know but Rachel showed me Tomie De Paola's "Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs" yesterday, which was part of her childhood but not mine, and it was deeply moving.   Look it up guys.  It's online 

People do jigsaw puzzles for the same reason Shanks calculated the decimals of pi, which he explained in his 1853 book: "Towards the close of the year 1850, the Author first formed the design of rectifying the Circle to upwards of 300 places of decimals. He was fully aware, at that time, that the accomplishment of his purpose would add little or nothing to his fame as a Mathematician, though it might as a Computer; nor would it be productive of anything in the shape of pecuniary recompense at all adequate to the labour of such lengthy computations. He was anxious to fill up scanty intervals of leisure with the achievement of something original, and which, at the same time, should not subject him either to great tension of thought, or to consult books. "

Thank you.   This explains everything. 

Gene - I gave my mother your book for Christmas and she started reading it in January at my father's bedside as he was dying. She read a few pages and put it down because she was really enjoying it and didn't want the reading of the book tainted by a death bed experience. He died in early February (sad but not tragic.....he was 96 and had no quality of life and the end) and she started reading the book in March. Anyhow we were chatting recently and she mentioned there was a chapter about the Grateful Dead in the book. I had to stop her immediately and tell her about this chat, and how you were discussing the idea for the book way back when, and how boring the day was. I told her that I wrote into to you tell you about a Grateful Dead concert that day. Is that how the chapter on the Grateful Dead came to be?!?!? Where do I go for my cut of the royalties?!?! She was going to let me read the book after she finished it, so maybe I'll get to read it in June or July. ;-(

Well, the GD concert was one of the first hits I got off Google, but because of the sweetness of this post, I am going to officially credit you for the tip, forever, and will be sending you half of my royalties, which will pay for lunch at a mediocre restaurant. 

Several chats ago, the subject of dreams came up and you were kind enough to post my comment on how I have the greatest and funniest dreams and how lucky I was. However, since the coronavirus started exploding, all this has changed. Both my husband and I have been having panic stricken "lost in the big city" dreams, almost every single night. And if not "lost" dreams, they are ones of flooding, fires, tornados and other disasters. These types of dreams supposedly mean you are suffering from lack on control and that makes sense to me. Now, like you, we dread going to sleep.

I have been in a sort of existential despair -- column coming up on it -- but I haven't been having nightmares, oddly.  Possibly because I am drinking too much!   After 9/11 I had many, many dreams about buildings exploding around me. 

I bought a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle from a small neighborhood stationery store, mostly to be supportive of a beloved local business. This damn thing is now an obsession; my job can keep me busy all day, but I ignored my responsibilities yesterday and sweated over this puzzle, a New Yorker cover from the 1940s, for HOURS. ... I love it. Might start it again once I finish it.

I am very distressed by people's apparent affection for jiggies, for reasons you will understand in an upcoming column. 


You are a liar and so is she.  This is about goddam Lobo, whoever that is. 

Thanks for posting the "lyrics" so I didn't have to listen to it. Is Abe Simpson writing for Dylan now?

I have no idea what this is about.  I am worried.   Look, no one is better than Dylan.  No one.   But this song is horrible.  Is he ... gone? 

I like the fact that you can solve some of the words in the list and then start guessing what some of the words in the quote might be, then try working on the word list some more, back and forth until you get the whole quote. I almost never get all the words in the list before getting the quote, because the syntax starts to make itself manifest and guides you to understand what is being said. Also, when you get the whole quote, you also get the author and title, so I never even think about those.

They are the best puzzles.   By far. 

Yeah, I think word find puzzles are stupid but I had to laugh at the one on Facebook the other day. The first word you find will be where you're going for vacation, and all the words were "nowhere" in every possible direction. That said, if I'm desperate for something to do and there is one of those around, I'll do it. As for jigsaw puzzles, I've never gotten into them, but to each his own.

See, I disagree.  I think we have to viciously hate on jigsaw doers, and I will make this case in a column in a few weeks, specifically targeting Tom The Butcher.  

The best ones are those by Richard Maltby in Harper's and any by the team of Henry Rathvun and Emily Cox (occasionally in the Sunday NYT). The Atlantic used to carry the Rathvun/Cox puzzles until several years ago, and when they stopped, I canceled my subscription.

They are fabulous. 

So you're positing Patti Smith was sneaking a werewolf song past us all this time? Thought that was Warren Zevon.

I never figured out who Lobo was, but he clearly owned the night. 

Hi Gene, I just finished your book and it was perfect reading for these times. Not COVID-19, I have a newborn and reading happens in fits and spurts and assumes I can even stay awake long enough to get through a page. One Day was so engaging and fun but also perfectly structured for quick pop ins and outs. It was lovely and beautifully told and made me feel mildly accomplished during a time when very little adult tasks get accomplished. Thank you! Also we named our son Max which may or may not have been heavily influenced by the 2019 World Series (I would never reveal as much to his grandparents, anyway.)

Thank you.   I did write it to basically be bathroom reading. 

Okay, kidding and I really appreciate this.   But it IS episodic!  

What do you think of David Simon's latest miniseries?

I've only seen Episode One.   I think it is lavishly beautifully filmed.   Some over-exposition in dialog, perhaps, but you kinda need to do that.   Very much looking forward to finishing it.  It's brilliantly timed and like everything David does, is intellectually deep.  

Just wanted to let you know that my birthday is Sunday. I'm turning 47, so it's time for you to update your poll age break to 48 and up, per discussions of previous years. Thanks. On another note, any suggestions on how to celebrate while sheltering in place?

Drink excessively.   Also you are really old.  


Tom Brady, at 43, has moved on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Do you think this will be more "Michael Jordan on the Wizards" (sad, but he was still an average to above average player) or "Joe Namath on the Rams" (actively damaging the player's legacy)?

Namath was never actually a great QB! 

I think Brady will be fine for a year or two.  He has the most important attribute for a quarterback.  He has the brain. 

Gene, have you ever tried nonograms? (My favorite site is love the 25x25 ones.) They're great logic puzzles.

Never even heard of them!  Will check! 

I HATE mush-mouthed singers. A good portion of that Lobo song is unintelligible. If I can't suss out what the hell the words are, then why did the songwriter write them? Enunciate, people.

I don't honestly know what you are talking about.  

I think one of the appeals of jigsaw puzzles right now is that theyre something that multiple people can work on together, without there needing to be much talking. Important qualities when we're all stuck together getting on each other's nerves. (My family often does them on vacation, much to the annoyance of my mom)

The column I write on this will be viciously attacked. 

Years ago my family had a tradition of doing a jigsaw puzzle each year while we were all home for Christmas. It was an activity for all ages, including my grandparents in their 80s and the young ones as well. One year I found a puzzle jigsaw. The picture on the box was not the end result, but gave you an idea of the end result. The puzzle was square and the picture was one long winding chain with jewels of different colors and shapes, one jewel per puzzle piece. The pieces on the chain were in a pattern (ruby square, emerald oval, etc.), so first you had to separate all the pieces into piles by shape/color, then figure out the pattern and then you had to try every single piece of the appropriate shape/color jewel in the spot you knew that shape/color combo was supposed to go. At first it was interesting (when you were trying to figure out the pattern) but in the end it was just tedious. It drove my dad Up. The. Wall. The night before I went back to college I stayed up most of the night finishing it (to save my father's frustration, because he doesn't give up on things) and my mother said, "Never buy a puzzle like that again."

I stopped reading this after word 15.   

And kids! They’re great for kids. No one else, though.

Well, wait.  You are forgetting morons.  

Leonard Cohen or John Prine? This is a HARD question!

 A good question and I might have misspoke.   

How do you feel about logic puzzles? You know the kind---there's some kind of story and then a few basic stated facts (the person who bought the fewest tickets was first in line; no theater-goer bought more tickets than the person who went to see Star Wars, etc.) and then you have to logically reason your way to the answer. They used to take up an entire section of the GRE test, but my mom does them for fun and believes them to be just as intellectually stimulating as crossword puzzles (though they are often packaged together in puzzle books with the dreaded word search puzzles!).

I like them, though I tend to give up on them.  But I respect them and respect you and your mom for liking them.  I am not sure I have made this clear enough, but Word Find Puzzles are for idiots. 

Since this was submitted in advance, it may already be moot by chat time. But what's your over/under on the time it takes Trump to deny he ever wanted to open up the country by Easter? This could replace lotteries, wagering on the time between Mad King Donald's taking back something dumb he said and denying he said it in the first place. Except sometimes it happens simultaneously.

He never said it.  That would have been INSANE.

I don't know if you saw the NY Times article "Uranus Ejected a Giant Plasma Bubble During Voyager 2’s Visit" ( ) that posted online late last week. It may have run in the print edition today (Tuesday), although I'm only an online subscriber so I'm not sure. My favorite paragraph: “Even with moderate gassiness, it’s likely that Uranus will be able to hold on to most of its atmosphere for the remainder of the solar system’s life,” said Paul Byrne, a planetary geologist at North Carolina State University who was not involved in the research. “Uranus just has that much gas.” <end of clip > The article provided a welcome bit of levity for me in an otherwise depressing weekend.

Yes, I loved this story.  I was sort of hoping they'd declare it a shart.  

Have you noticed that (Albert) Einstein is pronounced "ine-stine" and (Brian) Epstein is pronounced "ep-stine", whereas (Geoffrey) Epstein is pronounced "ep-steen" and Harvey Weinstein is pronounced "wine-steen"? Should social gatherings ever resume then you use this bifurcation of the pronunciation of German vowel sounds to immediately know if you're talking to a scientific/musical genius or a sexual predator. You're welcome.

Thank you. 

Why are dumb mindless things bad? I mean, look at sex. Nothing else is close to that dumb and it's great. Ditto that new Bob Dylan JFK "song".

Sex is not mindless, at least when practiced correctly.   It is complicated.  It involves power imbalances, emotional commitment, negotiation, and begging.   It is huge. 

Word searches...terrible. Find the difference (good ones, like in the magazine), excellent. Can’t lump them together in the poll.

Both are equally mindless! 

My local newspaper - on the same page it runs the horoscope - also runs "Hocus Focus," which is a "spot-the-six-differences" puzzle. Because I'm not 7 anymore, my eyes skim right over it, but it did strike me that every panel looks like it was drawn in 1962 -- white dads wearing business suits and ties, or checkered golf pants; white moms in dresses, pearls and "hair-dos," etc. I googled the artist, one Henry Boltinoff, and discovered that he's been dead since 1981! YIKES. (PS - you left out sudoku from your puzzle choices. I'm guessing that, since you're a numbers moron, you think they're stupid)

Soduko sucks but Ken Ken is excellent.  I am not against numbers. 

When the toddler-in-chief is reading a prepared speech that he clearly doesn't agree with, his voice takes on a flat, disinterested tone, like a teenager being told to take out the garbage. "Yeah. Yeah. Okay, mom" You know he's just itching to say what he really thinks. And, you know what he really thinks is so much worse. I can't listen to him speak any more. It's very annoying.

I know exactly what you are talking about and have noticed it for a while.  I am not sure it means he disagrees with what he is saying, though.  I think he thinks it sounds "presidential."  He is such a stupid man. 

My FIL, who is a flaming A-Hole, lives out in the country and, yeah, he shoots his dogs right in the effin face (vs taking to the vet to euthanize). Did I mention he is a flaming A-Hole?

Thank you.  This made me both laugh and cringe. 

The words are just musical sounds. (There are exceptions: John Prine always, Dylan often. Everyone else, not at all.)

Song lyrics matter. 

As the previous commenter alluded. Lobo is wolf in Spanish. Sort of fits.


For years I heard the line "our kid, now he's married to Mabel" as "our kid, now he's not a tomato".

I always heard Mabel but thought it was one of the dumbest lyrics ever.   Cream was not brilliant at lyrics and I loved them.  Also the Doors.  A-hole lyrics, great songs.  She lives on Love Street.  

Gene, sorry to say I didn't follow this one ... at first the homeless fellow seemed to like the soup ... then he didn't, but that seemed to be the right answer ... ??

Lemme check.  Hang on.  

Here is the Barney & Clyde.   It maybe didn't work.

Not going to change your mind, but doing a 1000 piece puzzle of one of Jackson Pollock's classic drip paintings without looking at the cover is quite the challenge.

And when I got to the end of it?  I would feel empty.   Who gives a crap?

Crossword puzzles saved my life a few years ago - deep depression, circling thoughts ... concentrating on the puzzles got me through a very rough time. I'd spend hours doing them instead of thinking. I'm looking forward to the day that I finish one doing only the across clues. Hasn't happened yet, but I've come reeeeallly close (on a Monday).

WOW.  I have never tried only the acrosses.   Rachel and I do only the downs on Mondays and usually Tuesdays. 

Why would a robot have armpit hair on its shoulders? Isn't that shoulder hair?

What kind of idiot are you?  THERE ARE ARMPIT HAIRS BELOW.   Have you never seen one of these things?

saves a LOT of trouble and time and error from filling the squares in by hand.


I'm not personally a fan, but maybe they are meditative for some people, like knitting.

Well they seem to be for my moron editor, Tom The Butcher, as you will discover shortly.  He considers them basically a drug.  But this is Tom we are talking about.  It's like listening to a dog try to explain the meaning of life. 

I am a retired hospital nurse with many chronic health issues. I still feel guilty that I'm not back working. Why?

I absolve you.  End of conversation. 

...about the screaming cat? Should I feel guilty for laughing?

I didn't ask her but I think we're okay on the screaming cat. 

Hey, I am going to finish this now.    Gonna keep going through the Contagion, as best I can.   Will see you all next week.   

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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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