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Chatological Humor (Updated 1.7.05)

Totally Hot

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2005; 12:00 PM

*Formerly known as "Funny? You Should Ask."

Gene Weingarten's controversial humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in the Washington Post Magazine. He aspires to someday become a National Treasure, but is currently more of a National Gag Novelty Item, like rubber dog poo.

Gene Weingarten (Richard Thompson - The Washington Post)

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He is online, at any rate, each Tuesday, to take your questions and abuse.

He'll chat about anything.

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Weingarten is the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death" and co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Gene Weingarten: Good Afternoon.

Happy New Year.

Today is National Trivia Day. In honor of that, I shall publish the three funniest truthful trivial facts you come up with. They must be true, and interesting in some odd and appealing way. I will offer this one: There is a form of congenital heart disease that makes your thumb fall off.

I was going to devote some time congratulating my newspaper for its recent comics changes, trading up in several ways, not the least of which was the acquisition of Frazz. The changes fell short of a ‘Shock and Awe' campaign I recommended some many months ago (involving euthanasia of ten very well known, dreadfully bad strips and their replacement with strips with a throbbing pulse) but you take what you can get. We did good. However, what we did pales against the stunning news arriving yesterday out of Los Angeles. I confirmed it last night with a call to their comics editor.

The LA Times has killed Garfield. (Sound of thunderous applause.) I believe they are the first major paper to risk that. Not only that, but they killed Garfield after a reader survey showed Garfield was the second most popular strip in the paper. Merely by confirming their position as "editors," by "editing," they showed the kind of cojones missing in too many places.

Garfield is the worst thing on the comics pages - a strip produced by a committee, devoid of originality, devoid of guts, a strip cynically DESIGNED to be inoffensive and bad, on the theory that public tastes are insipid. Now we need others to follow suit. Like The Post.

Okay, lessee. Please take today's poll. As usual, I will explain the correct answers - there are definitely correct answers - midway through.

A very, very bad two weeks in the comics. Today's CPOW is achieved by accretion only; three recent Dilberts that, taken together, rise to CPOW status by virtue of their charming iconoclasm.

Okay, let's do it.




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washingtonpost.com: Comic Pick(s) of the Week(s):
Dilbert Dec. 25 | Dec. 30 | Jan. 1

Cast your vote in the first poll of the new year.

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Washington, D.C.: Never, in the storied history of the fine daily rag know as The Washington Post, have truer words been written. Let no one ever say that your column did not contain the most forthright, accurate, and honestly ascertained fact ever revealed in The Post's pages. Wonderful job. I applaud you for finally accepting and admitting the truth:

"I'm a humor dick."

washingtonpost.com: Have Gunk Will Travel, (Post Magazine, Jan. 2)

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. Yes, this was a very revealing line.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene, last Sunday's column stank. Or is it stunk? No, stank. Well, whichever it is... it smelled to high heaven. What on earth happened? Or was this column, in a clever twist on that column's cloak-and-dagger/mystery theme, actually written by someone else? An impostor, perhaps? Someone who did a little B & E on your column? Someone who is the antithesis of the usually witty Gene Weingarten and is so jealous of your success that he would choose to sabotage it by hijacking you?

washingtonpost.com: Have Gunk, Will Travel, (Post Magazine, Jan. 2)

Gene Weingarten: Thank you!

This posting makes me think about Dave Barry's goodbye column, which Liz will link to below. It was a great goodbye column -- fiercely honest, moving but without phony sentiment or bathos. In it, Dave discusses how from virtually the time he began writing humor, people have been telling him how he "used to be funnier."

Yes, I used to be funnier, too. But, fortunately, I am a lot funnier now than I will be in two years. So consider yourself lucky.

You, however, never really change. You have always been, and always will be, pretty much the way you are now. Day in, day out. Your wife has, reluctantly, come to terms with this. It is why she is cheating on you.

washingtonpost.com: The Last Laugh, (Post Magazine, Jan. 2)


Remember, the mark of a true humorist is the unerring ability to trump critics with a personal dig.

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Reston, Va.: Yesterday's Post included the quote of the year, so far, from the Indonesian government's senior disaster response coordinator, Alwi Shihab:

"I can guarantee you there is no starvation, except for me, because I didn't have lunch today," he said at a news conference in Banda Aceh.

With his aptitude for the inappropriate soundbite he's obviously after Rummy's job.

Gene Weingarten: Holy crap!

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Alexandria, Va.: Please tell me it's okay to make fun of the following article, taken from this morning's Express:

With towering dinosaurs, a Kentucky museum looks like a destination for "Jurassic Park" fans. But the $25 million Museum of Creation, opening this spring, is for fundamentalist Christians, the Daily Telegraph reported Sunday. The centerpieces of the museum, promoting the view that God created man, are huge dinosaurs alongside men, contrary to scientific conclusions that they lived millions of years apart. Market researchers predict at least 300,000 visitors, paying $10 each, in the first year. Other exhibits include a planetarium showing that God made the Earth in six days; a Tyrannosaurus rex pursuing Adam and Eve; the Grand Canyon -- as formed by the Great Flood -- and a reconstruction of Noah's Ark, where visitors "hear people outside screaming," museum creator Ken Ham said. Other exhibits portray diseases and famine as the result of sin, and blame homosexuals for AIDS.

Gene Weingarten: You have my permission to laugh. I'm laughing, here. I also think we need a museum demonstrating a flat earth (like, digitally altered pictures from spacecraft) and a museum of Phlogiston.

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Early Submission from Rockville: Today's (Jan 4. - Tues) "Non Sequitur" was terrific. You had to look at it twice, but it was my choice for CPOW.

washingtonpost.com: Non Sequitur, (Jan. 4)

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I really liked this. I meant to make it the runner up.

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Long-time reader, first-time stalker: In the last chat, you attempted to deflect the affections of young women by describing yourself in unflattering terms. I figured that as a professional humorist, you were exaggerating for affect. Then this weekend I was walking to Eastern Market and saw either you or your doppelganger.

Ladies: You know when you visited your grandfather in the nursing home, and thought he looked old and out of it? And then you saw the guy next door, and suddenly your granddad didn't look so bad? That's Gene.

washingtonpost.com: Come on now. Be nice. Gene has feelings, too.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, could well be me. A slightly exaggerated version, because of back pain, but sure.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Incidentally, it's not just 20-something women who think you're hot. We like men who seem a little vulnerable, and adore a cute case of bedhead as much as we abhor narcissists. Plus, you have adorable puppy dog eyes. I'm a little older and a lot hotter than those young babes who constantly harangue you. Bet I could really blow your sockets if you let me... pant pant pant.

washingtonpost.com: This is getting out of hand.

Gene Weingarten: I could not have published this one without the previous. Please note that this person is from Indianapolis.

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Arlington, Va.: Gene: as I wept reading Dave Barry's farewell column on Sunday, I was comforted by a sudden thought: doesn't his hiatus now make you the third funniest person in the entire Washington Post Magazine, behind Stuever and Tom Sietsema?

Gene Weingarten: And Lisa DeMoraes. And Liz.

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Alexandria, Va.: Gene,

Yesterday's "Dilbert" featured a businessman asking a receptionist for the location of the nearest growler. After looking up "growler" on urbandictionary.com, I'm even more confused. Any help?

washingtonpost.com: Dilbert, (Jan. 3)

Gene Weingarten: I was confused, too. Can anyone help?

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Trivium: Large species of octopodes mate thusly: The male hands over his sperm in a little bundle to the female. She takes it, and the arm it's attached to. So you can always tell when a male octopus has gotten lucky.

Gene Weingarten: Nice. Two more.

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Strange Trivia: I am 43 years old. I have not vomited since I was 10 years old. Absolutely true.

Gene Weingarten: Superior. Congratulations. Not "trivia," though.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Trivia submission

The "bumpers" on the bottom of toilet seats are called "buculets."

Gene Weingarten: Okaaaay. Not funny enough.

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Stumped by FBOFW?: Can you please explain the joke/point of the Dec. 30 "For Better or For Worse?" Mom goes on about how blessed her family is and how she couldn't ask for anything more... she closes her eyes to sleep and husband looks sad and just says "oh." Is it because she left him out of her list of good things? Is it because she fell asleep and he was hoping for a quick roll in the hay? What the heck?

Gene Weingarten: It's the second explanation. Clearly.

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Fairfax, Va.: If you had a million dollars to do with as I wish, what would you do?

Gene Weingarten: I guess I'd do whatever you wanted me to do with it.

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Unanswered Joke: OK, so I bought "The Hypochondriac's Guide," and frankly, it's great. But you left a joke in there without a punchline, and I spent a good deal of time looking for someone who had the answer.

Now I that found someone who had heard the joke and knew the answer, I'm confused. I am a one-time premed student, well versed in the human anatomy, and experienced in the female anatomy as well. Why would a woman make that noise? (In terms Chatwoman won't blow a gasket over?)

Gene Weingarten: I feel compelled to answer this, even though decency requires me to speak in code, meaning this response will elude 99 percent of the readers.

You have to remember that what we are talking about is a joke. It is not logical, it does not conform to strict laws of physics, but it plays to the sexist and unacceptable objectification of women as being merely their equipment. So you have to envision the performance of, say, an empty coke bottle in similar circumstances.

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Childfree in D.C.: Given your responses in the updated archive on Dec. 23, I thought I should define the term "childfree" for you. Someone who says they are childfree means that they do not have children and do not desire children. They may/may not actually like children. Their lives are free of children, hence the name. Some people use the term "childless." However, that conjures up an image of someone who wants children but does not have them for whatever reason. This misses the fundamental point of being childfree. The term "childless" also implies that something is missing in that person's life. For a childfree person, having children would be detrimental, so they aren't missing them at all.

First the no-marriage-is-real-without-kids thing and now this? Makes me wonder if you think women are "crazy" if they don't desire children.

Isn't it odd that the first "Virginia" and "New York" approached the stork parking issue with logical arguements (wether you agree with them or not) and "breeder" threatened to fling poop? Hmmmmmm.

FYI, I would give up my seat on the subway to an obviously pregnant woman just as I would to an elderly person, a handicapped person, someone carrying a heavy load, someone who looks ill or distressed, or anyone who asks (some disabilities are not visible).

Gene Weingarten: This is in reference to a comment from the last chat, where I responded to a question by noting that the reader used the expression "child-free," which I likened to "STD-free." That and the overall cast of the person's question suggested, I said, that the questioner had a chip on his/her shoulder against the childed class.

It turns out that this is an interesting area, filled with surprisingly vigorous feelings and venom and whatnot, on all sides. A really good gauge of this is available on amazon.com, in the reaction to "The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless." This is a provocative if somewhat strident book by a friend of mine, Elinor Burkett. Check it out. There are 100 startling reader reviews, every single one of which either applauds Ellie for being a savior of a discriminated class of saintly Americans, or savages her for being a vicious, barren, childless harridan motivated by jealousy and spite.

Basically, it confirms that this is one highly provocative subject, which surprised me.

I understand, now that you mention it, that while "child-free" seems loaded, "childless" may be equally loaded. It's hard to find a single adjective that doesn't seem judgmental in one way or another. I'd opt for "I have kids," or "I don't have kids."

I don't feel strongly about this issue, one way or the other, which is why I'm surprised by the outpouring of emotion. The only personal prejudice I have leans toward the childless side, I suppose: I feel a few negative vibes toward people with LOTS AND LOTS of kids. I can't defend it logically and I don't excuse it, but there it is.

And I am strongly pro-choice. Which also, I suppose, puts me on the childless-by-choice side.

My feelings on marriage are wholly apart from this, and fairly simple: I honor two people's commitment to each other. I think it is important. But, in general, I find the institution of marriage (ie, government horning in on what is, essentially, a private promise) to be something disagreeable, justified only when needed to protect the interests of innocents. That doesn't mean I favor having kids over not having kids.

If my wife and I had not had kids, we'd still be together after 25 years, but we wouldn't be married.



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Frederick, Md.: On the Metro the other day, a woman got on, put her things down on one of the seats, then proceeded to go through her stretching routine in the middle of the car. She used the seat as a support for one leg, then the other, or stood in the middle aisle to do toe touches, or faced backward and stretched her arms over her head, all the while with her eyes closed and seemingly unaware that she was in a public place. Also seemingly uncaring that she was bending way down while wearing a loose fitting shirt, so that I had to look sideways or risk looking like some pervert. Granted, it was a holiday week and the subway wasn't all that crowded, but something seems really self-centered about the whole deal. I have to admit that I also get very annoyed with the women who bring their whole makeup kit with them and go through their personal grooming regimen in a public subway car. I'm not talking about a little lipstick, but the whole process with multiple brushes, cosmetics, etc. I've had other women defend this practice as efficient, but I don't shave and put on my deodorant on my commute, just because I want to sleep in an extra 15 minutes. Time to regain a little sense of civility and pride.

Gene Weingarten: Are you aware that 155,000 people just died in Asia?

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Fairfax, Va.: Nice article this week. I too have had a personal encounter with Vaseline vandalism. My twin daughters at eighteen months of age found a family-size tub of the stuff and distributed it onto the rug, couch, screen door, and themselves. My wife, realizing that it was much too quiet in our family room, went in to check on them and was horrified with what she found: a dull sheen covering a third of the room. As the days went on, we kept finding more pockets of jelly infiltration. Eventually, by the simple act of walking around, cleaning attempts, etc., the entire room was finally totally coated. My question is: how did the hotel get the Vaseline out of everything?

We had to replace the screen door, re-carpet, trash the couch, and it took a week for the petrolium jelly to come out of their hair. Having first hand experience with this nefarious substance, the perpetrator in your article should have the book thrown at him!

washingtonpost.com: Have Gunk Will Travel, (Post Magazine, Jan. 2)

Gene Weingarten: The hotel replaced the rugs and half the furniture at a cost of $3K.

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Vienna, VA: Oh Guru of Funniness, can you please help me? I normally like "Foxtrot" -- I think it's pretty clever. But I did not get yesterday's strip. Can you tell me: What's the joke? Thanks be to you, oh Great One.

washingtonpost.com: Foxtrot, (Jan. 3)

Gene Weingarten: He really WANTS to go. He kind of LIKES Eileen. So he has allowed himself to be "talked into it."

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Washington, D.C.: Why women have fewer back problems than men: Short skirts. Women learn to sink down to pick something up by bending at the knees and keeping their backs straight in order to avoid mooning the world. They get used to bending their knees to pick things up and this results in fewer back problems.

Gene Weingarten: I can't believe this is medically supportable, as it were, but I like it.

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Not Funny? So Tsunami: No, the subject isn't funny. But the reigning U.S. expert on quakes and seismology and The Colorado National Earthquake Information Center is named Dr. Waverly Person.

Gene Weingarten: This made me laugh out loud.

Gene Weingarten: But it is not funny.

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Somewhere, USA: Hey, Gene, just checking in with a story of holiday cheer.

My sister and I were shopping for presents last Wednesday. We passed by the popular Midwestern franchise, Dick's Sporting Goods. (No, I am not making that name up.)

My sister would like to stop there, but she's concerned because my Dad's birthday was in November and she had gone to this store for a gift then also.

"Well," I said in all seriousness, "are you concerned that it might look like you are falling back on Dick's too often?"

Five second pause. We both start laughing so hard she has to pull the car over.

Gene Weingarten: On the wall above my desk is a photograph some reader sent Dave Barry, and Dave sent it to me. It is a photograph taken in the parking lot of some midwestern shopping center. It is a wide angle shot, so you see the entirety of the parking lot, which serves three, and only three, large stores. The stores are 1) Dick's 2) B.J.'s (an eatery) and 3) Sieman's furniture.

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Funniest Post Writers: Gene:
Thanks for mentioning Lisa DeMoraes -- she was a brilliant Post hire. She's really made the TV column a must-read -- whether you watch the shows or not. I love her column and especially her chats -- she's hilarious. Is she as funny in person? She sounds young online -- how old is she?

Gene Weingarten: Lisa is 17.

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Boston, Mass.: If I want to say something looks like it's small, but it's actually large, would I call it "deceptively small" or "deceptively large?"

Gene Weingarten: I refer this to Pthep, if she is around.

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Trivia, Va.: Three good trivia questions:

1. Who was the only President of the United States to die as a non-citizen of the U.S.?

2. What state has the most letters in its name?

3. Which state is geographically closest to Africa?

Answers:

1. John Tyler, who renounced his citizenship as a citizen of the Confederacy.

2. Rhode Island and Providence Plantations

3. Maine. Look on a globe: most people do not realize that New England is tilted towards Africa.

Gene Weingarten: Rhode Island and Providence Plantations? Thisis the official name?

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This is a good o, NE: In Maryland, it is illegal to sell condoms from vending machines with one exception: Prophylactics may be dispensed from a vending machine only "in places where alcoholic beverages are sold for consumption on the premises."

Gene Weingarten: WOW!

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University Park, Md.: Another difference between the sexes: Before I discard holey underpants, I wash them. (I am female.)

Gene Weingarten: Um.

Is this common to the gender? Because it seems fairly weird to me.

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Dead Rear, AB: Hi Gene, So sorry about your back, I know that men always have difficult time dealing with the pain. I don't think that women have "stronger" back muscles though, I suspect that women do not moan about it as much as men, which is why you hear of women throwing their backs out less often. I have several siblings, and lucky me, all male; five of them (plus dad) have bad backs. Unfortunately, it has become the great "excuse" for them to never lift anything, or fix anything, just in case they "throw out their back," which, of course, only happens when there is a function they do not wish to attend, i.e., friend's housewarming, etc.

I also have a bad back, but take a Tylenol and move on, I don't usually have time to moan about it. (Also, I am a massage therapist, so I work daily with people who have bad backs, men complain whether is gets better or not, women tend to be grateful that is gets better. Always.)

Gene Weingarten: I don't question your thesis -- that men are bigger babies about pain -- but there are degrees of "throwing out" one's back. What happens to me every couple of years cannot be cured by a Tylenol. Ain't no woman (or man) alive who can ignore the sort of stabbing back pain I am talking about. It's the spasm of an inflamed back muscle, and it is incapacitating.

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Not Funny? So Tsunami - Part Deux: The USGS expert on tsunamis is named Brian Atwater.

Gene Weingarten: Correct. This also is not funny.

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Washington, D.C.: Came across this name the other day -- an economist who should have been a military barber:

Freddie Mac deputy chief economist Amy Crews Cutts.

Gene Weingarten: Lovely.

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Blacksburg, Va.: I am looking at "Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best." In several places the book says Opus first appeared in 1981. Thus it has not yet been 25 years. What gives? More egregiously, the first page of the book mentions Calvin's Spaceman Biff. Biff? What gives? I am deeply disappointed and offended.

Gene Weingarten: Anniversaries are a fluid things, in books. "Dave Barry Turns 40" came out when Dave was about 42, as I recall. Same difference with "Dave Barry Turns 50."

The Spaceman Biff thing is terrible. A failure of editing, mostly, though one wonders just how much of a Calvin and Hobbes devotee Berkeley is. (Actually, now that I think of it, Berkeley has said he seldom reads the comics.)

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No Sleep, IN: At what age are the results of the Peekaboo Baby Humor Test accurate? I have a nine-week-old who laughs in her sleep and occasionally smiles at my frantic attempts to entertain her (talking gibberish and off-key singing included). That seems normal developmentally, but now I am worried because she stared at me more or less blankly throughout my first peekaboo attempt this morning. Should I be concerned?

Gene Weingarten: No. Nine weeks is too young. Steve Martin probably wasn't laughing at peek-a-boo at nine weeks. Repeat in a month.

Gene Weingarten: (A nine-week old kid is only barely aware that the toes she is biting are HER toes.)

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Old Questi, On: Today I heard a rerun of a radio interview with Tom Schroeder, who claims to work on the Style Section, regarding a book he wrote on reincarnation research. Given your "we're all worm food" line (which sounds depressingly right to me), have you discussed this with Mr. Schroeder?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. Tom is Tom the Butcher, my editor. I hate to speak in his defense in any way because he is a monster. However:

Tom is not a reincarnation acolyte, or even an enthusiast. He researched his book with appropriate skepticism, and wrote it that way too. But he saw some things he couldn't explain, and they gave him pause.

Having said that, Tom the Butcher is somewhat more "openminded" (read: gullible) than I am on matters mystical and spiritual. I think I would not have written that book, though it is a good book about an inherently interesting topic. (Title: "Old Souls.")

Coincidentally, Gina and I explore this very subject in an upcoming column.

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Worth posting: from Dave Barry's blog:
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ANYBODY WANT SOME FISH?
Dear Editor:
I am writing in regard to Mr. Barry's recent column entitled "He's doggoned determined to get his way".

I am not sure how to contact Mr. Barry, and would like you to please forward my comments to him. I believe Mr. Barry has no business getting a dog because his wife doesn't want a dog, and it would extremely unfair to the poor dog. For the dog, having to be in an environment where he is not wanted simply to satisfy Mr. Barry's selfishness would be cruel and unfair to the dog. I suggest Mr. Barry maintain his fish, and table the "dog" idea.

Also, Mr. Barry makes comments about visiting people with a large, friendly dog. One of the comments he makes is that he tells the dog he is a good boy, and "pounding him with hearty blows, blows that would flatten a cat like a hairy pancake, but which only make the dog like me more".

I was incensed when I read Mr. Barry's description of how he greeted the large friendly dog. For Mr. Barry to suggest that it's okay to "pound the dog with hearty blows, blows that would flatten a cat like a hairy pancake" is horrendous, abusive, and could cause kidney damage to the dog.

Mr Barry further comments on interaction with the dog by saying he continues to "fake a throw" by holding the dog's toy and cocking his arm without actually throwing the toy and watching the dog attempting to chase the toy after Mr. Barry's "fake throw" and sees the dog "launch himself across the room, an unguided pursuit missile, reaching a velocity of 75 miles per hour before WHAM, he slams headfirst into the wall at the far end of the room".

Teasing a dog with his own toy to watch him hurt himself by faking throws of his toys is certainly not amusing by any stretch of an imagination. It is mean, sadistic, abusive, cruel, and certainly watching a dog get hurt IS NOT AMUSING!;!;!;!;!;

Mr. Barry's entire column was downright stupid, abusive, ignorant, sadistic, and it should have never been printed. It might suggest to other people that it's okay to tease a dog and watch him get hurt, or to greet a large dog by "pounding a dog" is okay. These things ARE NOT OKAY!;!;!;!;!;

They are mean, terrible, harmful, hurtful things to suggest, and Mr. Barry sounds like a terribly uninformed, ignorant, sadistic, moronic person. While he may be intelligent in other areas, canine companions is certainly not one of them.

Please pass these comments on to Mr. Barry, and tell him I believe maybe he shouldn't even have the fish.

Vicky Tisdial
Indianapolis
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I'm really going to miss these letters.

Gene Weingarten: One letter like this is worth a thousand complimentary ones.

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Maryland: Um, yes, I wash them too. But mainly I make the fold/toss decision while doing laundry, not as I get undressed, so that is probably why. I hope.

Gene Weingarten: Ah.

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washingtonpost.com: Cast your vote in the first poll of the new year.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Which strips did the Post let go? Since they moved everything around, it's hard to tell without, you know, thinking about it.

Gene Weingarten: Rex Morgan, One Big Happy, Shoe.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: gene,

What the heck happened to the crossword puzzle? First of all, it's hovering over "Cathy," forcing me to read a comic strip that jumped the shark about 10 years ago (I'd like to avert my eyes, but it's not possible) AND the puzzle is so easy to complete that I don't even have to bother reading the downs... I finish with the acrosses. Whose bright idea was it to dumb down the puzzle? Sheesh!

Gene Weingarten: I actually didn't realize they changed the puzzle? Did they? I will check. Two people have noted this.

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Funny Food: Do you find Kielbasa humorous?

Recently my wife presented our family with Kielbasa for dinner. It was the first time we'd had it and when my 14-year-old daughter espied the six-inch piece on her plate, she looked over at me and we both fell into a laughing fit. My wife, who has humor issues, did not appreciate our reaction.

Have you responded to any particular food in that way?

Gene Weingarten: Kielbasa is funny, but largely because of the name. I find phallic squash to be very funny, and certain dried apricots or figs. Dried apricots or figs, in certain physical forms, can be pant-wettingly funny.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: I am 33 years old. Over the holidays, I was catching up on my New Yorkers (it was a big pile) and read a piece by Jonathan Franzen about Peanuts. He said that at one point -- presumably not during my lifetime -- Peanuts was actually funny.

Is this true? Seems hard to believe.

Gene Weingarten: I, personally, do not think Peanuts was ever funny. I think Peanuts was once brilliant. It was brilliant when it was new and when it was startling and moving and profound to see children acting with adult angst. Schulz started something, and it was amazing. It never actually made me laugh.

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San Francisco, Calif.: I just voted in today's poll, among the first 100. Not surprisingly, given the general disdain with which "B.C." is viewed by most chatters here, myself included, it leads as most egregious at 37 percent (although only narrowly edging Curtis at 33 percent.) I, however, am one one of three people who see "B.C." as the least egregious. "B.C." is recognizing the actual reason Christians celebrate Christmas. The others lapse into treacle.

Gene Weingarten: More on this later.

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Not Fun, ny: Did you feel, as I did, that the entries in the Dave Barry tribute contest were generally disappointing and not up to the level of the average Style Invitational? (Whose best-known contributors appear to have passed on the chance to write Barryish children's stories.) Or is it just that it's hard to write a funny parody of someone who is already funny?

washingtonpost.com: Once Upon a Time We Are Not Making Up, (Post Magazine, Jan. 2)

Gene Weingarten: The Style Invitation is pro level humor. Seriously. It's not fair to expect much to live up to that, especially parody, which is doubly hard. But I liked the published Barry parodies. I thought each one nicely captured an element of Dave, without falling back on the trite and obvious. (I can tell you that many of the UNpublished Barry parodies were painfully bad.)

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Potomac, Md.: NEWS FLASH: "The List," one of the most-hated, most stupid features ever to appear in The Washington Post and the Post's rapidly-sinking Style section, isn't funny, according to thousands of frustrated Post readers.

"'The List' should have been killed about 30 years ago," said one fed-up reader who was about to cancel his subscription to the Post, joining about 100,000 equally fed-up readers in the last few years. "In fact, it should have been killed after the first time it ran. It wasn't funny then, either."

"I can't talk right now," said the Post's new Style editor. "I'm too busy killing 'Rex Morgan, M.D.,' which people have read for at least the past 35 years, and 'Shoe,' which is also one of the few intelligent comic strips in the paper. I'm also too busy ignoring the tens of thousands of readers who hate the 'Sunday Source,' 'The Express,' and the complete lack of local music, radio and television coverage in the paper. We're just simply trying to kill off as many subscribers as possible!"

"These are great days for The Baltimore Sun, USA Today and The Washington Times," said editors at those papers in a joint statement. "Why, our circulations are actually going up! I think we'll start printing 'Rex Morgan, M.D.' and 'Shoe.' And we promise to never run 'The List,' a 'Sunday Source' or an 'Express.' Thank you for your increasing patronage of our papers."

--30--

Gene Weingarten: Well, I disagree with most of what you said, but you said it nicely, so here is your forum. You're welcome. But why should anyone listen to a fan of Rex Morgan and Shoe?

I don't understand The List, but I like it, and here is why: It is self-consciously ultra-hip, aware of its elitism, BASKING in its campy snobbery, and clever. Mostly, it persuades me that it is Authoritative, even if I haven't a clue about what it is saying. It is a yearly reminder to everyone that they are unfashionable, old, and fuddy. And (here's the key) it pretty much persuades you that you are lucky to be where you are on that continuum.

I never much liked the in-out list before Stuever started doing it; I once recommend that Style kill it. Now I eagerly await it.

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One-time Garfield lover: Wasn't Garfield funny like, 10 years ago? I used to like reading it and even bought a few of the older anthologies, before the lines were all old and lame. Was Garfield ever truly funny, or was it my adolescent mind that enjoyed the lame jokes?

Gene Weingarten: Garfield was never, once, funny.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: "Deceptively small" refers to something small that seems bigger. Actually, the American Heritage Dictionary "usage panel" had a debate over this and agreed with the above, but in a split decision (50 percent for the above, 32 percent against, 18 percent just sat there and drooled). Fortunately, the panel made the correct choice.

Gene Weingarten: Note that Pat does not say she "believes" the panel made the correct choice. This is why I love her.

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E, AR: Gene -- I just have a quick question. Over the past month or so, the hearing in my right ear has been gradually replaced by a ringing sound. Lately I've been getting headaches. So I'm wondering... how long do I have? I wanted to ask you before I saw a doctor and got a prescription for ear wax drops.

Gene Weingarten: This is a condition known as tinnitus, which I used to think was pronounced "Tin-EYE-tis," as in having an inflamed tin ear or something. In researching my book, however, I learned it is TIN-ih-tuss.

It is usually harmless, a sort of auditory hiccup, particularly if the doc can hear the ringing when she places a stethoscope to your ear. If she CAN'T hear it, it's still probably nothing, but unfortunately the list of things it CAN be expands into unnerving territory: MS, or Meniere's Disease, or a growth on the auditory nerve with the wonderful name of a Schwannoma. A schwannoma is not ordinarily malignant, but it still can cause problems and has to be excised, a procedure that can damage facial nerves and you wind up with a perpetually snotty look on your face, like a French wine expert who has been asked to evaluate Yoo-Hoo.

But it's probably nothing, so relax.

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Anonymous: Re: your updated chat responses on giving up a seat/parking spot to a pregnant woman.

I'm a childless woman, and I will always give offer my seat to a definitely pregnant woman. However, this is a potential minefield. It can at times be very difficult to tell if someone is pregnant or merely overweight. I once offered a seat to someone I thought was pregnant. She looked at me, a little horrified, and said "thanks, but I'm not that old." That, combined with a few humiliating experiences where I've been asked when my baby is due (I have never been pregnant) has made me a little gun-shy.

Therefore, I now only offer up my seat if it is perfectly obvious that the woman is indeed pregnant (say, if she's wearing one of those T-shirts that say "baby," with an arrow pointing to her stomach). I figure that if there's any ambiguity, I'm better off waiting for the woman to ask for a seat.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, I'm with you. I don't make the move unless I am certain. Same with age. If you give up your seat to someone because of age, you are calling that person "old." You do that with great care.

In the case of my pregnant wife, however -- this is what started the discussion -- we are talking about an otherwise extremely petite woman who was very pregnant. Her condition was unmistakable.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, the comics poll. This was one of my favorite polls, because 1) There are clearly correct answers, and 2) They were not so obvious.

The most awful of the cartoons was not B.C. B.C. is straightforward, and unapologetic, and heartfelt, and unpretentious. You may feel it is inappropriate, but it is what it is. Personally, I think it's fine. He's a Christian reminding people what the day is supposed to be about. (A smart Christian friend of mine disagrees: He thinks it is egregious because it is so nakedly and stupidly proselytizing it gives Christians a bad name; I just think it gives Hart a bad name.)

But Curtis - there is a monstrosity of sap and stupidity. It is a cliché presented as though it were something startling and profound. It is almost a parody of a bad Christmas-day cartoon. We should not be running this strip.

Two of these cartoons are actually good. Red and Rover has a joke! It's not just treacle. Arguably, it doesn't really belong in this group, however. The one that does belong is Big Nate, and it is pretty good. It manages to be moving without being sappy. It retains an edge, and delivers an actual lump in the throat. It's the best of a bad genre.

I believe that in the year-long history of our polls, there has never been a question that you guys have muffed as badly as the third one. Get ready. That Frazz is … brilliant.

Here is a little lesson in cartooning: We are inured to mediocrity on the comics pages. It is rare that, five minutes after we read the comics pages, we will remember a single one. So when you have a comic that actually delivers something memorable, something that you can take away with you, you have a brilliant comic. When I read this one, I think of the incomparable Don Martin, master of the comic sound. "Zip zaw' is the perfect - PERFECT - sound effect for corduroy pants. It eclipses anything that ever came before and it will stand forever as the definitive, authoritative sound. Without that sound, it was a "very good" strip. With it, it is brilliant.







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Frankengross: After the death of her husband, poet Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley kept his heart wrapped up in silk until she died.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, that reminds me of one: What was Evelyn's Waugh's wife's name?

Evelyn.

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Alexandria, Va.: Gene,

Besides the social flaws inherent with being an avid follower of this chat, I have the additional burden of being a single male who owns a cat. I could spend several pages giving you reasons why I have a cat instead of some other more macho animal but they would just sound like sad excuses. I would like to know, both from you and female readers, how much of a liability this is in the dating world.

washingtonpost.com: You're fine. It's just one cat, right?

Gene Weingarten: To me, it's pretty bad, but I'm not gonna be dating you. Ladies? Is Chatwoman on the money?

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Back Problems: ...are generally caused by being overweight in the stomach -- which is where men are most likely to put it on first. (Women's excess weight starts below the waist.)

Gene Weingarten: I suspect this is true.

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Bathos: I've heard this word twice this week, and, to be honest, I had to look it up the first time.

"the sudden appearance of the commonplace in otherwise elevated matter or style"

What a fabulous definition. What a fabulous word. Thanks, smarties.

Gene Weingarten: Yep, a great word.

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Growler: Isn't growler a name for the big bottle that beer sometimes come in, especially from micro-breweries? I don't know if that makes sense here.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, several people seem agreed on this, but how does it fit into the strip.

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Washington D.C.: Re: Growler - It's a lavatory, as in "I've gotta take a real growler".

Gene Weingarten: REALLY? And I didn't know this? Well, it does make sense in context. A good word. We all learned something.

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Washington, D.C.: If women are able to tollerate pain better than men how come it is not socially acceptable to slug a woman in the face? Shouldn't she just suck it up?

Gene Weingarten: I am laughing. But it is wrong.

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Triv, IA: Nutmeg is extremely poisonous if injected intravenously.

Gene Weingarten: So is air. So is, like, sand.

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R.I. Native: Yup! Actually, it's The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Like the 'Commonwealth" of Virginia. And as a child free person, I agree with the poster and the author. We are a group that is much maligned (you can do the extra wor of te co-worker out on family leave, you don't have to go home, you don't need the holiday time to spend with family, you don't get special parking, no additional tax credits... the list goes on and on.)

Gene Weingarten: You give no credit to those who populate the world so someone will be paying social security for your scrawny, childless arse when you are old?

You don't think people with kids doing get screwed financially, taking care of their kids, while you can bank savings, partay in Europe and whatnot?

I see no clear black and white here.

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Kensington, Md.: Hey Gene, I am looking at a 14-hour plane ride next week and need a good book, any suggestions?

Gene Weingarten: One book? Fourteen hours? Hm.

The complete works of Sherlock Holmes. Seriously. Or, if you are a guy, Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen. You won't get through half of it, because you'll be nodding off.

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Curio, US: You say "If my wife and I had not had kids, we'd still be together after 25 years, but we wouldn't be married."

Would your wife say the same thing? Or, at some point during those childless 25 years would she have said "I want to get married, or we're done."

Gene Weingarten: Same thing. We've discussed it.

Also, when we did get married, we eloped. We're just that kind of people.

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Cat and guy: Yes, one cat (or even two, if they are meant to keep each other company), is quite okay for a guy. As opposed to a single guy who leaves a dog alone in his appartment for 14 hours a day.

But six cats (or dogs, for that matter) is weird.

washingtonpost.com: And no snakes or ferrets. They connote a possible link to Dungeons and Dragons and Rennaissance fairs.

Gene Weingarten: How about a parrot? If i were single, I would have a parrot.

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Cat Guy: It has always been a personal standard of mine that a guy liking cats is a good sign.

Cats are feminine in their manners. My friend in college believed that guys who liked and where nice to cats where guys who who liked and could be nice to women.

Also, liking cats is outside the male stereotype. Among my group of truly fabulous, attractive intelligent friends, stereotypical males are unattractive.

BTW, the cat-liking guy standard has only failed me once. It has held up at all other times in the 15 years of my dating career.

Gene Weingarten: I like this answer.

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Dear Dr. Science: Um, air is not "poisonous" when administered intravenously. Yes, it will stop your heart on a dime, but it is NOT poison ("a substance that through its chemical action usu. kills, injures or impairs an organism" -- Webster's); it is a mechanical interruption of the heart, not a chemical process.

Gene Weingarten: Acknowledged.

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Interesting Fa,CT: The phrase "Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo" is a perfectly grammatical sentence in English, as is the related "Buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo".

Gene Weingarten: Excellent.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. W: Your mention of the great Mr. Martin brought back many happy memories of reading Mad Magazine over 30 years ago. I see in the obits that Kelly Freas ("freeze"), who did so many Mad covers, and was the major "shaper" of Alfred E. Newman has just passed. Mad still tries, but it's no longer at the peak it had reached so long ago.

Gene Weingarten: It's gotten too commercial. Figuratively and literally. It now has ads.

At Tropic, I edited a great piece, by John Dorschner, about Don Martin in his late years. He died a very bitter man, hating Mad for having stolen (as he saw it) all his art, and paying him too little for it.

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Choices: Um don't people who HAVE children make the choice to bear those expenses you listed? And OTHER people (most likely with children) choose to give them tax breaks extra benefits etc? My health care plan doesn't cover birth control but my firm does provide a daycare center for those with children. I have to pay for my choice to control my reproduction and the extra money that could go into helping me bear that cost is spent on the daycare.

Gene Weingarten: As I said, I see this as a complex issue. What amazes me is the strength of feeling on both sides.

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Anim, AL: I'm a married man, so I guess my opinion counts for little on this subject, but I would say any guy who obviously likes animals (evidenced by, say, owning a cat) will appeal to women who also like animals.

Oh, and Liz is absolutely right about snakes and ferrets. Huzzah!;

Gene Weingarten: Huzzah? You are, like, 96 years old?

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Twilight Zone: Binghamton, N.Y. is the birthplace of Rod Serling... may explain the vaseline thing.

Gene Weingarten: It is also the home of Johnny Hart.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Dr. Gridlock refused to discuss the transportation implications of the D.C. baseball stadium because he thinks it has no chance of being built.

Are there any topics within your jurisdiction you will not discuss?

P.S. do you think Liz will be dating again by the time I get out of jail?

washingtonpost.com: No dice.

Gene Weingarten: The only questions I don't discuss, as a group, are questions about how good looking various Washington Post writers REALLY are, in person. I get these all the time.

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Delta Mills, Mich.: What does it say about a cartoonist, for instance Jef Mallett, if he votes in a poll about his own comic strip?

And what does it say if he voted this particular strip only as "pretty good?"

And what does it say if, after reading your analysis, he believes it enough to want to go back and vote "brilliant," and go buy some corduroys besides?

Jef

Gene Weingarten: Jef, I refer you to various theses on something called "The Intentional Fallacy."

Don't get a swelled head. I wasn't crazy about Sunday's. I thought it was too hard to follow the logic.

And welcome to the Post, bro.

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Holy Underpants, Batman!;: I am also a woman who washes underwear before throwing them away, but I do it because my dog really likes to carry around fragrant objects, and some things actually do embarass me.

Gene Weingarten: Apparently not.

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Hmmm...: When in the shower, 75 percent of people wash from top to bottom.

washingtonpost.com: Well, of course.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Wouldn't bottom to top make more sense?

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Or...: The looks of washpost producers

Gene Weingarten: Oh, I've already told you Liz is hot.

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Bethesda, Md.: Ass a public service, I would like to use this forum to ask people to stop citing "Webster's" after a definition. The word Webster can be used by anyone who wants to publish a dictionary and borrow its connotation of quality. The Merriam-Webster dictionaries are the descendants of the original.

Gene Weingarten: Nerdlinger.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Gene,

Based on your criteria for men and women's behavior, it sounds like your wife is pretty much a guy.

Gene Weingarten: Well, she has a bunch of male-type attributes, but is all girl in others. It's a great combination.

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Jef again: Note that I also voted wrong on the first two questions in the poll. Alas, the practitioners are never the experts.

Gene Weingarten: YOU DIDN'T THINK CURTIS WAS THE MOST EGREGIOUS? that was a slam-dunk!

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Top to Bottom Makes More Sense...: ...because the soap rinses off in the direction of gravity, Dr. Science. If you washed bottom-up, you'd get caught in that "lather-rinse-repeat" vortex.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, right. Right. Sorry. My impracticality is showing.

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Pining: Liz,

Is Gene hot?

washingtonpost.com: Could you be more specific?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, be more specific.

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Baltimore, Md.: Re: Sale of condoms in Maryland

Hi Gene!

This must be a new law because a few years ago, condoms were being sold from a vending machine in the ladies' room at the Johns Hopkins library.

Gene Weingarten: Maybe they sell beer there.

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New York, N.Y.: Gene, Gene, what IS it with the self-congratulatory elopement thing. And other issues. I agree with you on all of it, but c'mon, you're losing cred.

Gene Weingarten: Elopement is good. Weddings are icky. I have made this very clear. Marriage is private.

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In Today's Poll: Why is Big Nate so much better than Garfield at the same joke?

Gene Weingarten: BECAUSE IT HAS EDGE. It is the identical joke, except it is moving because he has always acted as though he hates the dog. And that a borrowed dog with an Elizabethan collar is a pain in the arse. But in the end it is about boy and dog appreciating each other.

There is none of that baggage in Garfield. It is just stupid schmaltz.

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Comics: Did you have a big impact on the changes to the comics?

Gene Weingarten: Not big enough.

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Washington, D.C.: All polar bears are left handed.

Gene Weingarten: Is this true?

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Washington, D.C.: What's wrong with D&D and Renfaires? Geeky men are among the kindest, friendliest, and most caring males around -- they're also intelligent, eclectic and creative enough to have interesting conversations with, and often have odd and entertaining hobbies to share. You never get bored. Plus, geeks are known to be widely accepting of difference and human variety.

I am female, by the way, and had my first kiss with my now-husband in the parking lot of a Renfaire. Never regretted it for an instant.

Gene Weingarten: This is kind of sweet. A defense of geeks.

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Trivia: I'm 39 years old. I vomited when I read the Garfield Christmas Day strip. Just a few minutes ago.

Gene Weingarten: Was it the first time since you were ten?

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Partial Cred, IT: OK, how do I rate on your objective humor scale if I got the first two poll questions right, but I went entirely in the other direction on Frazz (sorry, Jef) because I rated it "weak"?

Gene Weingarten: There is no way that strip is "weak." That is not a defensible position. All the others are defensible.

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Adorabull: Perhaps the ladies also like your projected self-confidence.

Women are nuts.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, actually this is a perfect point to exit on. About six months after Gina and I published our book, I was directed to a quote from Vonnegut I had never seen.

"Men are jerks. Women are nuts."

That's it. The whole book, in six words. Made me want to retire.

Thank you all. An excellent chat. Huge numbers of questions. I will be answering a few more each day, as always.

Oh, and there is no magazine on Sunday. My column will appear in the Style section, I believe.

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Jef still misinformed: I should have voted for Curtis. I was distracted by the whole BC-meaning-before-Christ thing.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, good.

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UPDATED 01.05.05

Gene Weingarten: Several posters have observed that they held off calling the Frazz strip "brilliant" or "very good" for specific, content-based reasons. There were two objections: The first is the seemingly inexplicable fact that the boy's pants don't start zip-zawing until the third panel. The second is that Frazz's preachiness in the final panel injects a flick of ick into an otherwise excellent comic.

Point one: Yes, this is odd, but I actually like it. It seems to be expressing, in concise, comicky form, a phenomenon of perception. How we suddenly become aware of something we hadn’t noticed before, something that had been part of general background noise, such as the sound of approaching trousers.

Point two: Valid, but immaterial (as it were. Hahahaha.) My point was that this strip achieved brilliance simply because of “zip zaw.” Even if the rest of the comic had been less good, I would stick with “brilliant.”

If you are familiar with Frazz, you will know that preaching is not uncommon. In fact, it is one of the reasons the strip has such uncommon appeal. Frazz is for adults, and for kids. For adults, it delivers good jokes, well told, and sometimes with pretty sophisticated themes. For kids, it delivers some charming things: lessons in ethics, in grammar, and the occasional moral-of-the-story. I like that, but can see how some people would not.

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That woman is insa, NE: With all due respect to the individual who claimed that "cats are feminine in their manners," she is, obviously, an idiot. To prove it, paint a picture...

This creature spends 18 hours a day sleeping. When awake, its chief activities are eating and pooping. Oh, and being endlessly amused by shiny things and/or batting around various objects.

It tends to plop down and start licking itself in inappropriate places at the most inopportune times, such as when your Grandmother or the Pope is over.

While it is capable of demonstrating affection, that affection is given entirely on its own terms, and the creature will show absolutely no compunction about getting up and leaving when it is done with you.

Now then, which gender does the above describe better? If it helps, replace "licking" in the above with "scratching".

Gene Weingarten: Excellently put. Now check out the observation below.

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Men without, CT: OK, So the whole "I'm a single guy with a cat" thing and the responses from a couple of people made me think that it's another bit of the trend of "Women like men who act like women."

Because there's very little that's odder to me (and most other guys, I'd wager) than a straight guy who has a cat by choice. It's only OK if you inherited the cat from mom, or from a failed relationship. (Granted, it would be worse still to have a girly dog, like, say, a Pomeranian).

Do you think most women would prefer men who didn't follow specator sports, or would like guys that take an interest in interior design?

Gene Weingarten: This goes back to my observation that some of my wife’s character traits are distinctly male, something I find appealing.

I have a theory. I’ll just throw it out there, and see what you think, if you can parse it: Men like women who are more like men more than women like men who are more like women. In general.

Probably the best evidence I can show -- and this is simply anecdotal, I admit -- is women’s inexplicable attraction to "bad boys." As Gina pointed out in our book, it seems to stem from a societal and historical feeling among women that love is supposed to hurt. So, instead of being attracted to the sweet, earnest young man who wants to love and respect her forever and ever, young women go for the guy with the cigarette pack in his undershirt sleeve and one headlight out on his car. Therefore, I would say that women (I am generalizing unacceptably, I know) would not be attracted to straight men who love to decorate houses, and have a closetful of outfits, and have a little yappy dog, and love to talk about their problems. They are going for the guy who likes beer and bowling and behaves like a real "man."

On the other hand, I contend (with some personal experience) that men would find themselves lucky to find a woman who does not gossip much with friends, who isn’t particularly given over to emotional moods, who is strong willed and competitive, who has fewer than 75 pair of shoes, etc.

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UPDATED 01.06.05

Underwe, AR: Related to last week's discussion of washing underwear before throwing it out: I recently discarded some underwear that were long overdue for the trash. I threw out the underwear and a pair of pants that were too worn out to donate in a plastic grocery bag in the trashroom of my apartment building. I returned to the trash room later that evening to throw out something else and noticed the pair of pants I had discarded were balled up on the top of the trashcan I had thrown them in. I thought that maybe someone had seen the pants and taken a look at them, but had decided that they really were due for the trash. I went over to the trashcan to put the pants back in the can, but when I opened it I noticed that the grocery bag and the probably half a dozen pairs of underwear were gone. Further inspection revealed that they were, in fact, no longer in the trash room.

Say something funny to make me less icked out by this story. There aren't too many people I want to share this story with in person, so I'm left passing my neighbors in the hallway wondering which one took my used underwear.

By the way, they had been washed before I threw them out. Like last week's poster I too made the determination while folding laundry.

washingtonpost.com: Madness chronicled this very phenom: In the Middle of the Night. And, of course, there's always Arnold Layne.

Gene Weingarten: I know a woman who once returned from the laundromat to find that all her undies were missing. Someone had actually pilfered them from the dryer when she was gone for a few minutes. I also once read the results of a survey in which something like 30 percent of all men said they would rummage through a hamper in a home they were visiting, for this purpose.

This whole subject is icky and grody. I wouldn't post it except for my sworn journalistic duty to titillate people.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Full disclosure: This is not a funny post. But the issue of children or no children in your discussion hasn't exactly been a laugh riot, so I'm assuming that's okay.

The recurring theme seems to be cost-benefit. "Why do I have to cover my colleagues responsibilities why she's off having a kid?" "Why do parents get leave to care for a sick kid but I can't take an extra day off?" And so on and so on blah blah blah.

I'll tell you why, and I say this as a woman without children. The effort the people with children put into raising good, decent adults will benefit you far beyond an extra day off to play at the beach and will cost you far less than the extra hours you put in during someone's maternity leave. The way I see it, they're raising the person who may eventually be treating me for cancer, or who will always give me a smile when I stop to buy groceries on the way home, or who will offer to check in on my sick dog, or who will be the vet who saves my sick dog, or who is just the nice person who let me cut in front of him on a crowded street to make the turn I'm about to miss.

The florist who knows daffodils are your favorite flower? Once someone's child. The assistant who makes your life easier than it deserves to be? Once someone's child. The neighbor who brought you dinner every night for a week after a family tragedy? Once someone's child. So cut the parents a little slack -- those tiny humans don't disappear off the face of the earth once they reach adulthood and the better lives they had as children, maybe the better yours will be, too.

Gene Weingarten: Um. Holy cow. Gulp. You can write, lady.

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Del Ray, Alexandria, Va.: OK, I've got a young kid. He's swell and generally fairly amusing, and I guess it's a good thing to have children, but I certainly understand the counter-argument. I also understand your thought that it mainly makes sense to get married if you are going to have kids. Now, what would you and your wife have done if you had NOT been able to have kids for some reason after getting married. Would you have gotten divorced? Again, no value judgments, but I'm just curious.

Gene Weingarten: Nah. 1) Why bother to get divorced? And 2) We would have adopted, anyway.

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Get Fuzzy: I was reading some of your transcripts, and you made me curious. What are some of "Get Fuzzy's" other subversive bits? I adore the comic but I must say I totally missed the Nazi hat, for instance.

Gene Weingarten: He has sneaked in some amazing stuff. One was a joke about women, and, um, fish. Really.

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UPDATED 01.07.05

Boulder, Colo.: I received the "Hypochondriac’s Guide" for Christmas. I especially liked the doctor’s checklist for treating a hypochondriac.

Gene Weingarten: Ah yes. Thank you. To prevent anyone from actually having to buy the book, I will now reveal The Doctor’s Ethical Checklist for Evaluating a Suspected Hypochondriac and Deciding Whether to Treat Him:

1. Does this person have medical insurance?
2.

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Another Childfree Person: Yes, parents are indeed paying for their children’s upbringing, and we can save our money. That was THEIR choice.

As far as Social Security money, their children are not paying for mine. The money is coming out of my paycheck right now, and it has been since I started working. I paid for it, thank you very much.

Gene Weingarten: Don’t you love it when a strident, angry person is just flat-out wrong?

Sorry, clowny, there is no Social Security “fund,” in the sense of a pension fund. Al Gore’s lockbox was just so much talk. The money you are putting in is disappearing as soon as you put it in. If there are not sufficient humans alive and working by the time you are an strident angry wrinkly in a nursing home, you are outta luck. That’s what the whole crisis is about. This country seriously needs breeders.

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San Diego, Calif.: In light of your opinion of marriage (i.e. its only purpose is if you want children), what's your view on gay marriage?

Gene Weingarten: Well, the logical answer is that if I think marriage sans children is silly, then I think gay marriage sans children is silly. And I do. However, so long as government PROHIBITS gay marriage, it is a civil rights issue. If you are going to have marriage, you have to allow it across the board.

You know, here is how I look at most civil rights issues. It's the way that people might have looked at slavery in 1850. It would have helped.

How will society look at this issue in 50 years? Does anyone really think that in 2055 gay people will not be able to be married? Same with the legalization of pot. There are clear, unmistakable patterns of movement in these areas.

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Anonymous: Re: Underwe, AR:

Chatwoman again shows her brilliance by chiming in with that Madness song. I found myself singing it on vacation in Australia because of what happened to me.

Five years ago: Husband and self are driving up the Queensland coast in a borrowed ’66 VW camper, hitting remote beaches in tiny towns en route to the Great Barrier Reef. Decided to splurge on a campground stay in the booming metropolis of Agnes Water (pop. 2,500) because we needed showers after a few days’ swimming; we draped our swimsuits and towels on our campsite’s clothesline and headed off to find dinner. Returned to find everything untouched, except my very ordinary, 10- year-old black swimsuit, which had vanished.

We walked to the campground office to ask the weathered woman there if it had been turned in. Five words into my query, she held up her hand, picked up the phone and dialed. “Frank? It’s Sharon here at the campground. He’s at it again.”

Gene Weingarten: Nice!

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NoKids, Md.: Last week you were discussing the childless/childfree debate. I have an interesting story for you. A friend of mine, who has no children and doesn't plan on having any, pulled off an amazing feat. She walked in to her boss's office and calmly asked for six weeks of maternity leave. She stated that since she didn't have kids, and never would, she wouldn't have to take extra vacation/sick leave when her kids were on school vacation or were home sick. She wouldn't miss work due to late nights up with the baby. She also stated that this would be a one-time deal, unlike other women who have multiple children.

She got it.

Gene Weingarten: This is astounding, but I do not believe it. Give me a name at weingarten(at)washpost.com, and if it's true, I'll write about her.

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Zip, Zaw: I got the impression from that "Frazz" strip that the cords suddenly started "zip zawing" because she had just hit a limit. You know, like an early detection alarm. Was I wrong? Did Jef weigh in with his intentions?

Gene Weingarten: This is precisely what Jef says. One chip did it. I prefer my explanation.

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