Petri Dishes: We Have Found Each Other At Last

Oct 13, 2020

Good morning, everyone! Hope you are hanging in there! Let’s converse!

I have a very vague, faint memory of a long-ago feeling that I once may even have felt...or perhaps it's only some childish notion from a book that was read to me on the early 50's. I'm pretty sure the word I'm looking for is "relaxed", though I'm not even sure that's a real word. Do you remember any such thing, perhaps from your childhood? Or is this just a far-fetched philosophical concept of me sort?

People have never experienced this sensation but it sounds wonderful for sure! 

I need a nap first.

Ha, so would I! Well, you can take a nap and join us then, but I think it might be noticeable if I did....

We worried about you. And missed you.

I was there! Did I hallucinate last week’s chat? If so, the caliber of my pandemic-era stress nightmares has gone downhill significantly. 

how does the live chat work i have plenty of opinions i would like to talk about but they can not be explained in one comment really and i would like to talk not only you but others as well

So, this one usually works as follows: people will come in with something they’d like to talk about, and whatever that was, we will wind up talking about bananas. 

So happy to see some of my all-time favorites: a Jeeves and Wooster tale (really, almost any Wodehouse would have been fine) and Cold Comfort Farm, which I recently reread and heartily recommend. Also intrigued to see one I had never heard of! Autobiography of Red which I will have to immediately check out. I remember that during my teens I had three heroes--all folks who made me laugh out loud. Wodehouse was one; the other two were S. J. Perelman and Walt Kelly. I recommend them to anyone who needs a break from our current malaise..... (although it is possible Perelman has become a bit dated).

I keep trying to read Perelman, and sometimes I really enjoy him, and other times I feel as though I missed the window. 

October 13 is my birthday. Just wanted to get that out there. No pressure. My question: Did you get your humor from your dad or mom?

Happy Birthday!! I think a combination of the two! They are both much funnier than I gave them credit for. 

If you could be a fly on a wall, what wall would you want to be on?

A high, inaccessible wall with a pleasant view and good lighting, not buffeted by strong winds. 

Could you dump the prose essay stuff and write in a more catchy fashion? Perhaps with new lyrics to Broadway show tunes.

I think if I did that exclusively people would get tired of it, but stay tuned — there should be one of those coming down the pike relatively soon. 

Alexandra, Can you explain why so many of us are taking deep dives into topics like Earth Sciences such as Geology. It has to be more than the Virus or Trump ??

I didn’t know that people were getting into the Earth Sciences. The phrase “these days, people are taking deep dives into the earth sciences” made total sense until “sciences” came along at the end there. 

I thought you should know that I’ve decided to join the Flat Earth Society. Not because I believe the Earth is flat, but because I think it should be.

Just don’t join any other logical societies that might follow from that! For a flat earth, it seems to lead down a deep rabbit hole! 

I remembered! How are you? Bananas! Cats! Star Wars! Exclamation marks!

Thank you! Grammar! Dogs! Recipes! Existential Dread! to you, too. 

Do you lace up your Chuck Taylor's to converse?

No, but All StarT. 

I hope you have some nice hot cider to ease watching the hearings! (I am not watching, but sort of following on twitter– it seems terrible)

I am watching! So far, without the aid of any substance more exciting than the pumpkin cream cheese muffins I baked this weekend. They really are pushing the limit of muffin towards cupcake; everything but the frosting, but vive la difference!

Buzzz bizzz bzz. Bzzz bz BBBzzzz Buzz Bzzzzzzzz bzzz buz. Bzzz buzz buzz bzzz?

Thank you for sharing this. You’re very brave.

Please note that this is significant because it means that people who get your book from the library actually read it and return it for the next person on the list. The DC library isn't even notifying people that their three weeks is up these days, so people who have a book they aren't reading might not even notice that they need to return it. So congratulations on having a popular book that people actually read. I think I'm going to bring it with me to stand in line for early voting!

Hey!! Please do! I hope you enjoy! 

No questions or answers appearing

Thank you, the button needed pushing! 

I see the basic front page but after fifteen minutes, it seems that no one has posted a question, and worse, our intrepid moderator has answered nary a one. Have the Russians hacked into our chat?

Oh no, I answered a whole bunch (not to use a banana term of art) but forgot to push the button! There should be a tidal wave of answers coming in right now! 

Did no one find the chat, or did you forget to press publish, or is it aliens?

The second! The third thing, well, we’re looking into that very strongly. 

We can start

Perhaps in response to your wish, I forgot to push the button until moments ago! 

Your completed chat did not appear on the Live Chat page until after it was over. I have no idea how anyone else found it, and if I see one more "sigh it's simple just bookmark this page" I'll scream.

To be fair, I myself could not find the front end and only got there through the back end! This is not an indictment of the new system, just a reflection that it is not an indicator of incompetence if you couldn’t locate it either! Hopefully things will be easier next week and in the future. 

That's reassuring. I thought my tablet had run out of ink, or is it electrons?

wow..there's another petri whose ouvre consists of wonderful books: pot bellied pigs, wombats, chameleons tarantulas...

This sounds great! I regret not being this person! 

It was a very Zen chat.

Yes, uh, *tugs at collar* the whole purpose of this exercise was to force us to reflect the silence that lies deep within ourselves. 

I wish I was a bear so I could hibernate till January 20th (please note - I will deposit my ballot in a drop box first). If I wake up and find out something horrible has happened, I will go back to sleep. Or maybe to Canada.

A sound plan. Which reminds me, belated congratulations to 747, the winner of Fat Bear Week! 

My employer is offering separation incentives and early retirement, but I have a question about eligibility. I'm instructed to go to a particular website for answers, but my browser says it's too suspicious. The wait time on the alternate phone contact is perpetually longer than usual. I guess I'll just stay employed forever. Unless they find out I visit this chat too much.

As a science enthusiast I would recommend taking deep dives only into oceanography.

Yay or Nay?


I am fascinated that you had 'In Search of Lost Time' on your list of books. I feel doubtful of anyone who says they have read all 7 volumes, 4215 pages of Proust. I watched a movie about him laying in bed writing and the movie was the most boring thing I have ever seen on film. The housekeeper just sits there waiting for him to ask for his tea. That's the movie. So I never read the book.

The book is a lot like that! I really enjoyed it. If you think that the plot parts of books are overrated, and you just want meticulous descriptions of thought processes for hundreds upon hundreds of pages — hmm, this is a stunning indictment of my reading preferences. 

And deep rabbit holes are probably more treacherous on a flat Earth because there's nothing on the other side. Which makes me wonder, how thick do FES folks think the Earth is, and what's on the bottom?

My understanding is that it’s actually shaped sort of like an egg cup. The bottom goes on forever, and on every side are enormous walls of ice. 

This reminds of the time back in the 80's when Dave Barry forgot to turn on the printing press and his column didn't appear in the paper for several weeks. Boy, was he ever embarrassed!

You gotta remember to turn the printing press on! Poor Benjamin Franklin also made that mistake, and people were forced to reuse their prior year’s Poor Richard’s Almanac for almost a decades. 

I was here last week for the live chat. Or at least I had the same exact hallucination as you did. Did you also hallucinate about my Back to the Future photo revelation?

I remember that! This is very like the end of “The Wizard of Oz.” “And you were there... and you were there...” 

Did you know that the pre-Raphaelite poet and roysterer Dante Gabriel Rossetti loved wombats? His sister Christina wrote a poem in Italian ("O uommibatto!") about them. I vaguely remember some story about his wombat chasing a naked Swinburne around the house, but Swinburne must have been kind of a wimp to fear a little wombat.

This is incredible! I would fear a uommibatto too under those circumstances. I want to google this but all the provided keywords lead me to worry I will just find the most oddly specific Rule 34 situation imaginable. 

I got all the letters used up in just two words two days in a row. In one, I think my words (fractions/shuck vs fictitious/shrank) were better because shuck is a great word that can refer to getting naked or eating oysters or sweet corn. In the other, I actually got the same answer as the puzzle makers (quantified/dowel) which has never happened before. Of course, most days I come up with one good word that uses up a few of the hard letters and then fill in the rest with pathetic three letter words appropriate for a very early reader book, but such is life. You struggle through the hard stuff and the rest is just getting by.

Ooh, I’m not sure about the Letter Box. At, partially, this chat’s recommendation, I’ve lately fallen prey to the Spelling Bee. Would you believe it won’t accept “TAUNTAUN” as a word? 

I am not looking forward to your lost chat becoming an ongoing topic for weeks to come. Perhaps we could discuss Kiwis? A delicious fruit and a delightful people.

And an above-average bird! 

one week couple of years ago my son had to email me an assure me he was NOT the moron at the Katmai site of the bears going salmon who had decided to jump right tinto teh river for a better selfie.

That’s always a reassuring email to receive, I assume?

I think any bear that wakes up in the dead of winter would be an unhappy bear. If I was going to hibernate it would be until late April.

Is it just me or has the term "deep dive" exploded over the past few years. I never heard it used until a couple years ago and now I seem to hear it every day. It's like the new "at the end of the day …"

We should do a litany of new modern cliches. “Skill set,” for some reason, really — I want to say “grinds my gears,” but at the same time, I *don’t* want to say “grinds my gears.” 

Since I mainly listen to audio books to help me fall asleep I have searched for the perfect genre for sleep. I thought childrens' books would be pleasant but they are filled with witches and goblins and trolls. I reverted to All Quiet on the Western Front.

Maybe I should go back to that one. I think there is a subtle difference between great books to read and great books to re-read. You can read a great book and realize that it won't be as great when you know the ending. Other books can just be read over and over again because it is the journey, not the destination that is the point.

Sounds like someone reading Moby Dick just for the descriptions of every single sail on the Pequod. Someone annoyed when plot actually happens.

Oh no, I’m in this picture and don’t like it!

Silly. It's turtles, all the way down.

Is that what they really think or did you just make that up on the spot?

A flat-earth-type I met at a UFO convention explained it to me in those terms once! It could be his personal invention but I thought he said it was the general theory. 

I’ve been a life-long avid reader; I read constantly and voraciously and catholicly for nearly all of my nearly 65 years. And fast - usually at least 3 books per week. I also listened to audiobooks while commuting. Since the pandemic began for me in March, I’ve been “slow reading” - reading while simultaneously listening to the audiobook (of the same book, of course.) I recommend this. It forces one to focus. Plus, one learns how to pronounce the words properly (as well as names of people and places.)

That sound like torture to me, but I’m glad you’re enjoying it! It would be nice to know how words were pronounced, but that is a sacrifice I am going to have to keep on making. 

In a 19th Century History class in college I related Romanticism to the Pre-Raphaelite painters and the teacher was like "Well, Raphael was a Renaissance painter, so he had nothing to do with our topic." And I was too stunned at HIS ignorance to respond and everyone in the class thought that I was the stupid one. I wasn't the ignorant one!

Oh my God. I am very indignant on your behalf! 

I thought you were waiting for your cuneiform clay tablets to dry. I once published with wet tablets and they got smushed in the Amazon Prime delivery van and it TOTALLY changed the meaning.

I remember when 'proof-positive' became a thing and I HATED IT SO MUCH. Just say positive proof!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Was in a big box store in the Pacific NW yesterday. The shelves were filled with Christmas decor and it was all 30% off. Lady in front of me had a cart full of stuff. Shouldn't she be buying pumpkins or even ceramic turkeys? Or maybe she did that in July?

The seasons continue to turn ineluctably. But why is it all discounted? We can’t have gotten past Christmas yet, can we? Or did we go all the way back around? The Hallmark Channel is already panting and giddy with excitement at the prospect of inflicting a month of Christmas film upon us. But when will October be given its due? And how much room is there for the turkey in all this? 

Then you should definitely follow Alexandra's recommendation and read 'In Search of Lost Time'! It's the perfect novel(s) for you! I mean, Proust himself wrote it while lounging in bed. He ate breakfast at 4pm.

The more exclamation points, the less worthy your statement.

I knew a poet who submitted a poem, maybe a haiku but I don't remember, that began "Isolate prairie..." and the judge sent back a nasty snark pointing out that "isolate" was a present-tense verb and not an adjective. The Poetry Police should have hanged, drawn and quartered that judge.

I don’t think the Poetry Police can pass sentences like that! 

It's elephants standing on top of the turtle.

Ah yes, we here attending the stately discourse which is Alexandra Petri's chat must only make worthy statements. Unworthy statements will be deemed base, cheap, defective, flawed, and deficient. Madame Petri might not even deem them worthy of posting. We all bow down to your superior judgment, Mme Petri. May we all remember this day in future.

Hey, the comment about exclamation points was not a pronouncement from the chair and consequently cannot be held to be infallible!!!!!

But doesn't the new "Countdown to Christmas" season start on October 24, which means TWO months of Christmas films?

*a chill, peppermint-flavored wind blows over my grave*

Although Moby Dick includes the greatest chase scene in all of literature, my favorite chapter is where Ishmael and Queequig visit a chowder restaurant, where all kinds of chowders (New England chowders, the only real chowders) are served. I want to go to that restaurant!

OK, I should have said Not Worth Reading. The more exclamation points, the crappier the statement.

Speaking of crappy statements — hm, no, this is not an ideal transition back to the fact that the Barrett hearings are resuming and I had better skedaddle! Let me think of another one. 

What about Taunt Aunt?

I didn’t have taunt! Thank you!

I wrote that title wrong while searching it, and now it occurs to me that I should write a novel with that title. People will be sure to buy it. "Should I read this four thousand page novel or this 300 page mystery?". Or maybe they'll think it's the cliff-notes version of Proust and wonder who this Tim guy is.

I love this very much. I would definitely read it: already, there is more tension and drama in that one-line title than there is in the other entire seven volumes!

Price point. Lived experience. How do these differ from Price and Experience?

ever--child or adult?

A good question for next week! I think that would be prime season for a Halloween Costumes and Safe Equivalents chat! 

When I lived in England there was no Thanksgiving and Halloween is a much smaller holiday, so no one cared about Christmas stuff showing up in October. I loved it. No ranting about how a holiday is a belligerent interloper intent on clobbering the other holidays.

If such a group exists, they are very lax in their duties. They should have stopped that weirdo in 10th grade who wrote me two pages of rhymes about my last name. Wheelwright. Poor guy.

Anyone not know the ending?

Time to find out! Have a good week, all. Stay well, and see you on the blog and twitter in the interim! 

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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