Petri Dishes

Oct 20, 2020

Good morning! It’s Tuesday again! And this is the last chat in our familiar software before we switch to something new and exciting! Let’s converse! 

I had a dream last week similar to many I've had over the years, where I was going back to college to work on my unfinished Master's degree. Except this time, I was in a large room (registration area, perhaps) and realized that hardly anyone was wearing a mask, and I wasn't either. I quickly put my mask on but was nervous because of all the other (unmasked) folks there. I can't remember what my mask looked like, but someone came up and joked about the design on it. And then I realized that I needed to use the bathroom, but when I went in there it was crowded with a bunch of people, none of whom had a mask on. So I turned around and went back out. And then I guess I woke up. At least I can be grateful that the dream involved missing masks rather than missing pants (not that I've ever had THAT kind of dream before).

It’s funny, I have a ton of lengthy, uninteresting-except-to-myself COVID-era dreams, but they only infrequently feature masklessness as a source of anxiety. My most recent one was that the French version of the “Les Miserables” musical included an additional number that was missing in English. You know, riveting stuff. I’m glad yours are at least pegged to the present moment! 

I’ve tried baking breads; I’ve tried jammy reds. I’ve raised 2 kittens and crocheted 14 mittens. I’m busier than ever, and still can’t seem to ever— SHAKE THIS ELECTORAL DREAD (Please provide tips on speeding up time until the election results come in.)

If I had tips, I would be applying them to myself! But I like the idea. Let me see what I can do!

Ooooo--a fun topic! At our house my dad always did the costumes and since he was an engineer and not a seamstress, they always involved boxes. We were houses, dice, totem poles, and--frequently--walking coffins. My brother at age 3 was costumed in a coffin and when you opened the top "door" you saw a skull with Nixon buttons in the eye sockets (it was 1960. My dad was fervently anti-Nixon). The problem was the skull was a full head rubber mask and eventually we heard a small voice saying, "it's raining in here" and when we removed his mask we realized his head and face were literally so drenched in sweat that it was running down and soaking his shirt. Good times! Speaking of Nixon, I was 8 and I remember that was the first political contest I was aware of. On the third-grade playground we had a peppy chant: "Kennedy, Kennedy, he's our man. We'll put Nixon in the garbage can!" We need to bring back political chants like that! "Biden, Biden, he's our guy. We'll put Trump in Rikers Is..." No, wait, hmmmm.

Oh no, the poor sweaty anti-Nixon skeleton! That’s a great costume! 

Yes, the subject of today’s conversation. I think it would be fun to go as a Nose Peering Over A Mask, if you have the time and the papier-mâché ability. If you could work out the scale, you could be a truly fearsome sight! 

NO QUESTION I thought that the article was humorless and insulting to the president. President Trump loves America and freedom. He has helped America in countless ways. Why don't you spend your time finding the good????

Look, I think it’s generous of you to describe the article as about the President, since it was almost entirely about how I regretted telling you to throw a TV out the window because the waste disposal process was more complicated than I realized, and President Trump barely came up after the headline! However, you’re wrong that I did not spend my time finding the good. I spent a long time searching for the good! It is not my fault that this is what I found instead. It’s like saying I should have spent more time finding my car keys — if they aren’t there to be found, then spending more time won’t help. 

I absolutely adore your columns; they never fail to make me smile! On the topic of anchovies: my grandpa and dad love them, but I despise them. Grandpa thinks Caesar salads and pizzas aren’t the same without them. To me, they’re putrid and smelly. What do you think about anchovies?

I don’t really like anchovies on things except in a Caesar salad, but they are tasty fresh! I think a pizza with them might be too salty for me. (And, thanks!)

Makes me think of poor sweaty Scout Finch in her ham costume made of chicken wire covered with cloth with the wire ends poking into her and not being able to see anything.

It is incredibly depressing, because a) it costs a fortune and b) it just reminds me that I haven't taken myself to the doctor in a very long time and I need to do that too. Which will be worse, because I am probably much less healthy than I was the last time I went to a doctor and fixing it will probably be a lot more complicated than replacing my timing belt and water pump and resealing some stuff.

Maybe it’s just a problem with the lights on your dashboard! That’s always my favorite theory. “Something seems to be the matter with my car: through some kind of horrible malfunction, the light that indicates the engine is sick keeps coming on. What could cause such a light to come on when there cannot possibly be anything expensively wrong with the engine?” That, but for your own condition. 

We’re you able to recall the words of melody sufficiently to write them down? Supposedly Keith Richards woke from a dream with the opening notes of SATIFACTION in his likely drug enhanced (addled) brain and somehow got them on paper.

I toodled with it after waking up and realized it was the same tune as the opening of “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet” but with different, worse lyrics. But a good tip! 

Not sure I can take more exciting right now.


This one has been! Possibly your other one hasn’t? Try reloading the page! 

Will we be able to find you in the new software? Will you be able to find you? Are we going to all have an existential crisis next Tuesday?

I hope that we will all be able to find ourselves, but if you can’t find me, it is doubtless because I made some kind of error with the software and have fallen into a deep hole made entirely of confusing code in a thrilling Matrix-type scenario. 

With Election Day two weeks away, anxiety increases. The uncertain weeks that follow might throw us into panic. We Petri Dishers need each other’s support. In that spirit, I offer a haiku I wrote in 2005: To stop the panic, Create a door that opens Onto fog. Shut it. – Jan Armon

I like that haiku! And the term Petri Dishers! 

Why do Trump supporters think it's okay to have a president who has never read the Constitution? Do they think he should have perused it at some point in the past four years?

Look, everyone knows the Constitution is a big boat, and how can you read a boat? He’s done all one man can. 

In some ways it's like those cooking contests on Food Network where they make the chefs incorporate some weird ingredient into their dish. You know, like adding rutabagas to a pastry item.

Fresh anchovies are delicious. I've had them in Spanish and Basque restaurants. The preserved ones, though, I have mixed feelings about. I wouldn't put one on a pizza or a salad, but mashed into certain foods like the dressing of Caesar salad (you're not supposed to just plop them onto the salad), or a dollop of anchovy paste in certain pasta sauces, it adds a depth of flavor that is not merely fishy and salty.

One might even call it umami! I think! 

I think the topic of early preparations for Christmas (e.g., store decorations) came up a week ago. Last Tuesday, hours after last week's chat, I discovered, with slowly-dawning horror, that one of my local radio stations had already made the switch to nothing but holiday music. Before we were halfway through October! I propose we try them all at the Hague.

I somehow misread the object of the sentence “I propose we try them all at The Hague” and was wondering why we would have to go to The Hague to try all the Christmas music, but of course what you meant made actual sense. I wonder if there’s a tourism campaign to be found in this — “Try it! At The Hague” 

How can a nose peer? I thought only eyes could peer. Is there anyone who nose the answer to that question? If so, they possess knowledge without peer.

Hm, a puzzle! If a nose doesn't work, you could always make it a couples costume and each of you could go as Ol’ Factory Cents! 

My last year trick-or-treating I went as the Headless Horseman. I used my mother's cape and fastened it over my head with just a peephole to look out of and carried a plastic pumpkin as the HH did in the story for my head. No one got it. Just like no one got that my daughter was an Ewok one year. I used a bear costume pattern and we added the scarf like they had. I guess we should have made her face furry.

I think the most glorious fraternity of all is the fraternity of those who must keep explaining their homemade Halloween costumes to baffled onlookers. No one ever knew what I was for about a decade of my life, and some say that it continues on Halloweens today! Maybe just give her an Ewok-colored nose? 

Ol' Factory Cents were made at the Philadelphia Mint, if I remember right.

A Michelin-starred restaurant in Budapest is serving its meals to diners on a Ferris wheel to ensure social distancing.

That’s such a great idea! What a great use of a Ferris wheel! 

Dear Alexandra, I love your columns!! I feel so happy whenever I see there is a new one available!! Please elaborate on the Hague reference? I used to live in Belgium so I felt I should readily understand what that all meant (and yes I know The Hague is in Holland, not actually Belgium, but it's all so close together), but I couldn't figure it out, and am now feeling I'm missing something quite brilliant.

You are definitely not missing anything brilliant! The International Court of Justice is located in The Hague and that is where earlier in the chat people were suggesting that those who inflict Christmas music on us too soon ought to be tried. I initially misread it and it suggested one of those bad city tourism slogans— like, a picture of people sampling cheeses and a cursive font splashed over them saying “Lots of things to try at The Hague.” “Better try it... at The Hague!” Oh dear the horse was ailing before and now I fear I’ve whipped it into the ground. 

I live in a stereotypical split level house in a suburb. I usually put a carved pumpkin on my porch and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. Then I have to eat all the leftover candy (because I buy too much) for another week. This year, I'm turning off my porch light and not buying any candy. Except, perhaps, the day after Halloween when it's marked down to half price.

I think that’s smart. If you can’t figure out a way to distribute candy safely In These Times (I can’t!), that’s by far the better part of valor. And... more guaranteed leftovers for you! 

When I lived in the UK, recipes that called for a boiled, mashed swede used to creep me out, even after I learned that swede is just what Brits call rutabaga. (Did you ever read Carl Sandburg's "Rootabaga Stories"?

I did! It was very long ago, though! Was that the one that included the wedding of the broom handle?

I'm guessing it was incredibly successful this year as it is dawning on people that shopping in a crowded mall ain't the way to do it this year. (Yes, I know Jeff Bezos has a nodding acquaintance with the WaPo.) Yesterday on a short drive I saw five large Amazon Prime vans on the road, so this is my evidence that some forms of US commerce are still functioning.

the National Zoo's panda mom for giving birth at age 22. We needed to see one of those adorable roly-poly panda babies to balance all the less attractive images in Washington these days.

I thought everyone knew it was a big tent.

If not for the pandemic that would be the loveliest group to meet up with over pastries. I need more puns in my life. Bring on the puns!!!

Oh, that reminds me, the Punoff is online this year! Check out all the entries here! It’s a great time! Some people even smartly did a degree of production that lets the viewer know what word they’re punning on, which is super helpful and I wish in retrospect I had tried! 

The word also means to come slightly into view.

Or the protagonist of an Ibsen play! 

Those with motion sickness could share their meal with those below them!

Talk about being on point. "Even his skeleton sweats!" (A joke for all you Herblock fans in the chat.)

My plan to watch about a dozen of the classic black-and-white monster movies this month is going pretty well, if you consider having watched half of one and skipped around to catch scenes from another.

I COUNT it! ah ah ah!

I was from a big family so by the time it came around to me, my mom was a bit over Halloween so I just wore the same thing every year and maybe she's change the tail and the ears so that one year it was a rabbit, then it was a dog, then it was a sheep, then it was a polar bear and it started off way too big for me and by the end way too tight.

Honestly this is very good fodder for a Stephen King story! Every year you went as an ominous, unclear beast of variable aspect and by the time you finally escaped the costume it was trying to squeeze the breath out of you. I’m getting chills! 

Have you ever considered doing polls like Weingarten?

Easily doing that will be among the functionalities of the new software, I think! 

I'd have no problem with people putting up Halloween decorations now, or even a week or two ago, but one of my neighbors put theirs up in the middle of September! Can you imagine?


I do regret putting that in all-caps, though, but I don’t want to retype it, so please enjoy this brief period of dubious shouting. 

Our neighborhood is suggesting that people set up tables at the end of their driveways with candy pre-bagged in little treat bags, the bags distanced from each other so they don't all get handled, while we sit safely away from the table to greet trick-or-treaters.

I think if you can count upon trick or treaters getting the bags to either be from the same household or not be in too much proximity to each other, there is a universe where this could actually work as intended, but you have to have a good sense of what’s feasible for your neighborhood’s kids! 

of high school (long story) so was basically required to wear a costume to school on Halloween and just a hat wasn't acceptable. I wore my little brother's cowardly lion costume from when he was in the Wizard of Oz in 6th grade. Thank goodness mom made it roomy and never threw anything out. It was a little short in the leg, but who cares about that? A little short in the torso was more problematic, but I hunched over a bit and got through it.

Me thinks the lady leafs hers up all year long?

Really, I don't get it.

We will have to save that mystery for next week! In the new software! In the interim, I’ll be on the blog and on the twitter! Have a good Tuesday, all! 

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: