Petri Dishes: Contumacy Chat

Jun 09, 2020

Hello everyone! I hope your Tuesday is off to a pleasant start! Let's converse! 

"The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."

Dang! Then again, given that their idea of a good time was listening to Edward Everett, it probably makes sense that they didn't enjoy the Gettysburg Address. 

How did you come up with the name Dr. Geraldine Moomin for today's bunker inspection column? Do you read

I used to read the Moomin books! I remember very little about them but it combined nicely with Geraldine. I don't, but now I am intrigued! 

Hi Alexandra, I am one of 9 sisters. All pretty successful in life. We used to be able to spot a liar, cheater, faker, blamer across a plaza at 100 yards, yet 7 sisters voted for one. Why? ~ Worried

Wait, can we go back to how you used to be standing on one side of a plaza 100 yards away and spotting liars, cheaters, fakers, and blamers? Were these people distinct, or could you only spot those who combined all these characteristics? What plaza was this. 

No, I don't know, I am disheartened to hear that, but I doubt it is because they did not notice those aspects? Perhaps they think that everyone is like that, so it seemed better to them to have one on what they felt was their team. Perhaps they were sufficiently convinced that the alternatives were somehow worse. Either way, I hope it is a decision they will reconsider? Ugh. Have you considered bringing said liar, cheater, faker, and blamer to the plaza in question? Maybe it would help to see in context. 

I can't believe the Adoraton of the MAGA wasn't among the President's favorite Bible stories. It didn't make the list?

Oh, that's a good one. 

Can you please provide I link? I couldn't find it. Thanks!

Here it is! 

And yet I don't see how this is going to happen, what with no one else to complain about my odor.

You could invent an imaginary roommate, I suppose. I have some friends, as well, I think, as some fellow chatters, who, to avoid conflict with their actual roommates or loved ones, invented an invisible third party who could be blamed for messes or strange smells. Maybe yours could remind you to shower! 


Sorry, my computer switched onto a different, slower wifi network just to be fun and contumacious, and it took me a little while to figure out and return it! 

Sank, Alex! he SANK. Sunk is the past participle. "Honey, I Should have Shrunk the Kids" has a lot to answer for. (Then again, Louisa May Alcott always seemed to use "sung" as the past.)

Oh no, you're right! And Mr. Grinch was right there to tell me about it, too. 

But I'm not likely to heed complaints from the same imaginary roommate who I blame things on. And frankly, imagining another roommate for this role doesn't seem feasible, as I haven't got the space.

I'm having eye surgery tomorrow. The upside is that I probably won't be able to see the criminal mob boss's face on articles. A downside is that I probably won't be able to read your columns. Is it possible for Wash Post to provide audio versions?

You could always highlight it and have your phone or computer read it aloud! There's a setting! It will lack a certain comprehension but will sound very authoritative. 

Did you know that you can replace deodorant after a shower with the free fragrance samples you get in the mail? Or so I’ve been informed...

Don't you realize that when he said he was inspecting a bunker he was referring to one of the bunkers on one of his golf courses?

Ah, a common misconception! President Trump is far too talented and astute a golfer ever to need to inspect one of those. He has actually never seen one; all his golf balls go directly to the green. 

I respectfully submit “Contumacy Chat” as the name of this chat. And no, that is not the name of a costume party and you do not need to wear a mask to attend. Although you can wear a costume or a mask or both if you feel so inclined.

And if you aren't, no one will notice!

Maybe my favorite aspect of this chat is keeping my 50-year-old copy of Webster's New World Dictionary close at hand to look up a word. Still the best dictionary, imho. It's the reason I know the subtle differences in meaning between prevent, forestall, preclude, obviate, and avert.

You can't beat a good dictionary! And there's something about the act of physically looking up the word that I find helps it to stick. 

at home? Are you filching off someone else's hot spot?

No, no! Just the one. But my computer likes to automatically join any XFinity hotspot in the vicinity, and there is one in the vicinity. I think I have reset it to not do that? 

I'm having similar motivation issues. But I think I got a yeast infection (never went to doc and it seemed to mostly clear up by itself, but I used the OTC treatment per instructions anyway). It wasn't fun. Now I make sure to shower twice a week whether I need it or not. Just kidding. I try to make it three or four times a week. (I love that the internet is mostly anonymous.)

"Wow, we sure know a lot about whoever that was! More than we wanted to!" 

But I'm here now.


For some reason, I want to brush my teeth in the morning right before my first conference call. These aren't even video calls, so personal hygiene is really of no concern generally. But I refuse to get out of pajamas!

I think, as stances go, being in favor of personal hygiene but against getting out of pajamas is a good and uncontroversial one. 

Gotta be the Golden Calf. Unfortunately no golfing stories in the bible.

I know it contradicts my previous joke, but there is a long section about being trapped somewhere unpleasantly sandy for forty years that might resonate. 

Talking to my parents over the weekend. Dad was excited to tell me that the White House's new address was 1600 Black Lives Matter Avenue. I had to correct him and tell him it was more like the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Black Lives Matter Plaza. But now I think I was wrong because Black Lives Matter Plaza only goes to the northern side of Lafayette Park, not the southern side. Was my correction close enough? I mean, 1600 Black Lives Matter Plaza (if you assume that it continues all the way up 16th Street) is on the east side just north of Q. So complicated.....

You are correct, I think, that it is Black Lives Matter Plaza and not Avenue. I tried to let Google Maps resolve this, and it just took me to the park. But I think we should see if the postal service will just start directing mail addressed to 1600 Black Lives Matter Plaza to the White House. Then there will be no doubt of its address. 

Actually, I've just been sleeping in my clothes.

That works too!

I'd guess that the Prez is an Old Testament guy--lots of sturm und drang, family dysfunction, beheadings, plagues, justice meted out unsparingly, sexy women dancing, hardcore rough justice guys. New Testament has too much compassion, mercy, and love stuff to be in his wheelhouse.

Wow, remind me to bring you if I ever need to pitch the Old Testament in some sort of TV meeting. 

The "front" of the White House, its mailing address, has always been on Pennsylvania Avenue, not 16th Street. I'm only submitting this because I can't leave it uncorrected. Like how I insist my children use the correct there, they're and their.

Maybe the could be some sort of forwarding system? 

Is Your Cat Happy

This almost makes me relieved not to have a cat! I would be so disappointed if I learned mine were unhappy or riddled with ennui. 

You originally wrote: "President Trump is far too talented and astute a golfer ever to need to inspect one of those." [a bunker]. I'm sure your statement also extends to all Sand Traps, even one that kept lesser linksters for 40 years. No word on how he does when facing a Windmill or the Clown.

It's not worth it, assuming it's a laptop, because next time you leave the house (with your computer), you'll have to join the XFinity hotspot again, and you'll have to remember your Xfinity password. Which you probably won't, for at least 20 minutes after the time you needed it (it will turn out to be the one you tried first, with a 2 tacked on to the end.) (This assumes you even remember your Xfinity log-in ID (what do you mean? Of course it's my e-mail address. How could it possibly be my phone number?) ). And then when you get home, you'll have to "forget" the Xfinity log-on again, and the next time you leave the house, the cycle continues.

You are pleasingly optimistic that I will be taking my laptop somewhere that is not the house any time soon! Thank you for that optimism!

We need to define "shower." I am the queen of the incomplete shower; I have very dry skin so I don't always do the head-to-foot-plus-shampoo-&-conditioner thing. I do wash hands & feet after yoga class, I shampoo my hair standing outside the tub with the shower head on a tube thing, I, er, do a quick underneath with the same sprayer, etc. But if I have to do the whole thing, I have to slather myself with lotion and wait for it to dry before putting on clothing.

To site where I can purchase a box of “Adoration of the MAGA” Christmas cards.

See, OP, you have a winner on your hands!

Apparently I'm weird. I have showered every day of the pandemic. I might skip washing my hair once a week, but I have showered and put on clean clothes every day. What is the point of wallowing? It doesn't make anything feel any better.

I think "wallowing" looks different to different folks! I think if it helps you get through the day, you have every right to put on clean clothes and shower, just as if it helps others to get through the day, they have every right to remain pajamaed. I have done both; some days I find the former approach helpful, and some days the latter is the best I can manage. I think it varies person to person! 

That's a sandy place somewhat similar to a bunker. Joseph only stayed there a day or two, however.

Why did I think this was the bottom of a well? Either way, he just inspected it and left. 

When asked if he was an Old or New fan, he said both. Just the answer you'd get from someone who read neither.

"I neither agree nor disagree." 

I think Trystero would work.

Wow, that's a name I've not heard in a long time! A long time! I guess I'm glad to hear they are still running. 

I have moved away :( and so I cannot tell from photos or news stories the precise location of Black Lives Matter Plaza. Can you help? Is it Pennsylvania, between 19th and 17th?

It is a two-block stretch of 16th street -- south of K and north of H. Wikipedia has more, unsurprisingly! 

Last night, I saw the first blink of a lightning bug rising above the clover-studded grass of my lawn. Somehow, this annual event seemed more placating and tacit than earlier years: the bug with its expression of desire for community glowing intermittently like a smartphone behind it, alone this night but still hopeful, and always rising. So I went out and caught this early blinkwether. I took his glowy parts and stuck them on my finger. Then I took a video of me twirling my wrist around and around really fast. Then I put that on TikTok.

This is a sufficiently bewildering series of tonal shifts that I think we should end on it! Sorry, my Wifi keeps switching even though I have relocated a couple of times; I think my responses have been more intermittent than I would like! Have a swell week, see you on the blog and Twitter, and yes, NOTHING IS WRONG AND HERE IS WHY is out now, if that interests you!

I am supposed to be working on two trainings for some professional development, but have two children in the house and construction (including jackhammering!) next door. Instead of putting on my headphones and drowning out the distractions, I decided to join your chat live, which almost never happens.

Well, I hope you enjoyed it (and that the jackhammering calms down)! See you next week, perhaps! 

Many years ago, I worked for a tech company as a technical writer. I shared an office with two systems testers. One day, they and another system tester got stuck on a word ("egregious") and asked me what it meant. I gave a bit of a definition and then pulled my dictionary off the shelf to give a more precise one--and then threw in the etymology (e = out of, grex = flock), because I am a Latinist by training. They just sort of stared at me, and then one of them said, "Why do you have a dictionary? That's what spellcheck's for." Didn't I just demonstrate the use?!

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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: