*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. He is also reputed to be close to persons thought to be familiar with individuals claiming to be authoritative spokesmen for the mysterious and reclusive Czar of The Style Invitational.
(Richard Thompson - The Washington Post)
He is online, at any rate, each Tuesday, to take your questions and abuse.
He'll chat about anything.
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.
Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.
This is not a sports chat, but one observation needs to be made, and I might as well be the first to make it. In the next few days you are going to see your favorite sportswriters and TV commentators waxing rhapsodic (some will be raxing wapsodic) about the now quite plausible scenario of the Cubs playing the Red Sox in the World Series. Adjectives you haven't seen in years will be hauled out to describe the wonderfulness of this contest between a team that has not won a World Series since 1908 and a team that has not won a World Series since 1918.
The engine of the waxing rhapsodies will go like this: Whatever happens, we will be GUARANTEED an end to one of the two most dramatic, horrifying, exasperating extended futilities in the history of sport, a balm to a long-suffering city that has known only crushing disappointment. Sisyphus will reach the top of the hill!
Well, to me, this is not the great story that is in the works. The great story in the works is that if a Boston-Chicago world series materializes, we will be GUARANTEED that one long-suffering city will be once again dunked headfirst into the toilet bowl of excruciating horror. Sisyphus will eat that rock. THAT's worth rooting for.
On a related topic, reader Bonnie Furlong spotted the word "metrosexual" in a recent Post story and wondered what it is; it sounded to me like a perv who rubs against women at rush hour, but it turns out Bonnie and I are simply hopelessly out of it. Though the term is all over the Web, it has barely made it into newspapers (most hits are European or Australian). It refers to a straight guy who is so in touch with his feminine side that he is into fashion and hair and grooming products. I would just call this guy a Sissyfuss.
Haha. Don't try this at home, people. I am a professional.
Continuing in my campaign to bring a really good comic to the Post, please check out three example of this past week's Frazz, linked below. Liz and I misfired last week on previous Frazzlinks, but you can find em in the archive.
Did Rush Limbaugh get his just do? Just doo? Just dew. Whatever. Did he get it? Or was he railroaded by the pinko PC press?
Gene Weingarten: This IS a sports chat!
Whenever someone in the public eye gets in trouble for blurting something impolitic, my initial inclination is to take his side. This is not a completely selfless impulse: To use a sports metaphor, I suppose I am "hearing footsteps."
And so, though I think Limbaugh is a malevolent gasbag, I was inclined to take his side. He said what he thought, he seemed to be criticizing not Donovan McNabb but the lefty press, etc.
But the more I thought about it, the less I liked what he said, and ultimately I decided he got exactly what he deserved. (I'm sure someone else has made this specific point, though I haven't seen it, and to me it is the large unspoken issue behind this mini-scandal):
What Limbaugh said resurrects one of the most hurtful, untrue, ugliest stereotypes against black athletes - one that not only has the capacity to hurt, but that actually DID cause grievous injury to black football players for decades. The stereotype is that blacks aren't smart enough to be quarterbacks. (Limbaugh didn't actually articulate this, but it was obviously implicit in what he said; if the liberal sports media WAS trying to promote black quarterbacks, there was a reason they would feel compelled to do so, and overcoming that stereotype is the reason.)
You don't enter this arena lightly.
Now, if Rush were signed on to this chat (I'm sure he's a fan!) he would say that he was not speaking to the TRUTH of that stereotype, but to the hypocrisy of the pinko media for even considering it.
You know what? I'd buy that, except for two things:
1) The charge itself simply is not true, so his motives are suspect. The sports media are tough guys. Critical of everyone, pretty much. Theirs is a very level playing field. They aren't promoting anyone for politically correct reasons, and all you need to be is a knowledgeable sports fan to realize this. So Rush went WAAAY out of his way to make this point, and I think the reason is a very unpleasant agenda.
2) Rush gets no benefit of the doubt. He is a race baiter, and has been for years.
Can you have a beef with a vegan?
A beef with a vegan is almost inevitable.
Gene Weingarten: You certainly don't want to shoot the bull with one.
Tik T, OK:
In you Sunday column you described the Special Theory of Relativity as a "theory of human development." I regret to inform you that the theory actually has nothing to do with relatives, or any aspect of human development. It deals with clocks and spaceships and streetcars in Berne, Switzerland. But not human development. Where were the science nerds when this was being copy-edited?
In order to get this answered online: Poop.
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Oct. 5)
Gene Weingarten: Hm. Ok, I could quibble but I won't. You're right. Though you do sound like one of those kids who used to write into Batman comics noting that Alfred the butler was wearing cuffed pants in frame six, but uncuffed pants in frame nine.
I probably won't be the first to point this out, but the Czar was taken in. The "hearts of palm" entry in the Style Invitational this weekend was a complete ripoff of an old Paula Poundstone bit. Not to suggest that the Czar is capable of error or anything...
washingtonpost.com: Style Invitational, (Post, Oct. 5)
Gene Weingarten: Uh oh. I can see how this chat is going. See next post.
Gene: David Montgomery here. Tho I am in the darkened cubicle next to you (when will they fix these lights?) I dare not disturb you while you prepare for your chat with jumping jacks, chanting, meditation, and so forth, so let me submit this in writing:
The lead of your column sunday contained this sentence: "Now comes a new book making an argument about human development that, though it may be disturbing to a man such as me, who deeply respects and admires the opposite sex..."
Didn't you MAKE A GRIEVOUS GRAMMATICAL BLUNDER? Shouldn't it be "a man such as I"? What's got into you, you are usually so good with the language... Or should we be sneering at nitwits such as I?
Gene Weingarten: I am under assault even from a few feet away. David, I think you are wrong. But I'm not sure. We need Pthep.
One F Jef, Mich.:
Hi Gene --
Just so you know, I'm online for this one. In case, you know, anybody wants to know about dumb names from a person who gave himself one. Or, oh, that comic strip thing. Call me shameless.
And if not, I'll just read along and have a good time.
Ah. Hm. Interesting. Welcome. This is Jef Mallett, the cartoonist for Frazz. Aside from the fact that he lives in the hellhole of Lansing, Mich. and draws a good strip, I don't know much about him, but you've seen Frazz and if you have questions, ask em through me.
K Street Dungeon:
I'm one of those kids who wrote in to Batman comics, not into Batman comics.
As for Frazz, Oct. 1: Great. Advanced fart humor. I've been worried that there aren't enough fart jokes these days.
Gene Weingarten: Jef is just one soldier out there in this important theater.
Aspen Swill, Md.:
What kind of prep goes into this chat besides picking a cartoon de semaine?
Gene, did you write this question yourself?
Gene Weingarten: Liz and I were just talking about this! And because Liz pays me for this thing, I will disclose that HOURS AND HOURS OF PAINSTAKING RESEARCH goes into each chat. And I will NOT disclose, because it might embarrass her, that in our exchange of memos on this subject, Liz actually used the verb "repurpose." As in, "we can repurpose the chat."
Oh, and I didn't mention the comic of the week! It's Get Fuzzy from Sunday. Liz?
-- Also, a first runner-up is linked below.
Frotteur? I hardly know 'er.:
The word for the sexual compulsion to rub up against people in crowded places like subways is frotteurism, from the French word "frotteur." This, clearly, is one way in which the surrender-monkeys are better than us -- their language has evolved to the point that they have a specific word just for a person who humps strangers on the Metro.
(Then again, perhaps we are still better, since we can steal all of their cool words, and still occasionally fail to have someone run roughshod all over us.)
Gene Weingarten: Yes, agreed. Though I thought the word was "frotage." It is also intriguing that the Germans invented a word that means "taking joy in the suffering of others," and Jews invented a word meaning "setting a bad example so that all gentiles will point at us and conclude that all Jews are like this."
washingtonpost.com: Get Fuzzy, (Oct. 5)
Wasn't there a question a few weeks ago about the mysterious similarities between Frazz and Calvin? Wouldn't this be a good time to bring that back up?
Gene Weingarten: Yes, yes. A reader asked if it is coincidence that Frazz the janitor looked rather remarkably like a grown-up Calvin! Jef?
You're lucky I put that "Get Fuzzy" link out. I'm not feeling too fuzzy towards you right now.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, you are. You're crazy about me, and you know it.
For Jef Mallett:
Is Frazz supposed to Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes all grown up? Why the eerie resemblance?
Gene Weingarten: Ah, here it is.
As one of the geeks that was appalled that anyone would suggest Badgers was written in Java when it was so clearly written in Flash (how relieved was I to read that response in the transcript) I loved Friday's (10/3) Foxtrot. It's been a while since I've written in C, but I do believe that program would compile and run.
Would something like that ever get comic pick of the week, or is it too "specialized?" Of course, I'm posting this before the chat so for all I know you picked it.
Gene Weingarten: Here is the first runner-up.
It's "a man such as I." When in doubt finish it with the verb - A man such as I AM.
Gene Weingarten: See below.
No need for Pthep...:
"Do not use I, the subjective case, when me, the objective case, is called for. I is used incorrectly in the following sentences: "Something's come between you and I"; "They expected I to be the winner." The first sentence should use me because "between" is a preposition and requires an object, and the second sentence requires me because the subject of an infinitive must be in the objective case. In speech and informal writing, it is acceptable to use me for I ("That's me!;") when rigidly following the rule produces an unnatural result. In formal writing, you should restructure the sentence to avoid both alternatives."
Gene Weingarten: So, I guess we need Pthep.
Me, me, me!;:
I want to tell Jef Frazz is SO great that even Gene and I can both like him. What a creative unique spin on the world!; What a totally blissed out personality. Please don't quit, we need more.
Gene Weingarten: Jef Frazz! I'm not sure what to make of that, but I guess it's a compliment.
Frazz is great. And as an expat Michigander, I appreciate Jef's various local references. (Oh, and all the bike stuff too. Thanks, Jef.)
Jef, is true that the Michigan legislature there in Lansing --actually formally passed a law- changing the designation of Michigan residents from "Michiganders" to "Michiganians?"
Gene Weingarten: Neither is as good as Michigunnahs.
Pat the Perfect, ME:
Mr. D. Montgomery of Cubicle F-27 has a very good point: If you are going to be so pompous as not to say the informal but almost entirely standard "A person like me," you should be consistent and say "A person such as I."
Gene Weingarten: So I was ... wrong?
Amaye Screw, DE?:
I'm quite worried. Recently, I married the girl of my dreams, or so I thought. Everything was going along swimmingly until I sent her a few links to your comic picks of the week a few weeks ago -- a few "Pearls Before Swine," if I remember correctly. She e-mails back that she didn't find them funny. I knew her taste in comics was a bit off, but I didn't know how far off. Her favorites are "For Better or For Worse" and "The Family Circus" in a completely unironic way.
What should I do? Are we doomed?
The sex is great, though, if that matters.
Gene Weingarten: In answer to your very first question, yes, evidently you are. And if that is enough for you, well, then I guess you're okay.
Gene Weingarten: Oh, I almost forgot this. A woman named Beth from South Dakota sent in this incredible aptonym:
I was in Thailand during the last week of August and pass along the following AP article from the Bangkok Post, containing a most unfortunate aptonym:
[Headline: Squeezed to Death] Phnom Penh -- A woman in Cambodia has given herself up to authorities after accidentally killing her husband in a scuffle in which she squeezed his testicles until he fainted.
Saut Chin, 46, was fed up with physical abuse from her husband when she grabbed his testicles until he passed out, newspaper reports said yesterday.
Fearing that her husband, Ouch Yan, 52, might regain consciousness and start beating her again, she tied his neck with a scarf to a bed. The exact cause of death was not know. The incident occurred in a village near Sihanoukville, a port city 185km southwest of Phnom Penh. The wife said she had "only wanted to teach him a lesson."
One F Jef, Mich.:
I'll take Me, Me, Me's post as a compliment. And I have no intention of quitting until they make me quit. Which, I suppose, could happen any time. Suffice to say I'm planning on behaving better than Rush Limbaugh. Maybe Rush would be in less trouble if HE stuck to fart jokes.
Gene Weingarten: Wait, Jef, don't dodge the question: Is Frazz a grown-up Calvin or not?
Ann Arbor, Mich.:
Just wondering if you caught yourself as an example of synechdoche on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" this weekend?
Gene Weingarten: No, please explain.
Mt. Olympus, D.C.:
Your intro was disappointing. Do you really think Sisyphus pushing his rock was more exasperating than Tantalus being cursed with an unquenchable thirst?
At least Sisyphus got a good workout. And have you ever gone a day without water? Perhaps yesterday you tried while fasting?
I feel more for Tantalus more than I do for Sisyphus.
By the way, I suspect those two are still out there, somewhere. The Greek government has been slow to release the details of their whereabouts.
Gene Weingarten: Tantalus was always thirsty? Thus tantalizing? Wow.
I'm a guy who likes "For Better or for Worse"... does that make me a Sissyfuss, err, Metrosexual?
Gene Weingarten: I think I have never met a man who liked this strip. I think I have never met a woman who didn't. Honestly, I just don't know what to say. Do you drive a Miata?
Gene, did you happen to catch this exchange in Friday's chat with the cartoonist of "Sally Forth?"
Riverdale: Why is there always one character smirking at the punch line?
Francesco Marciuliano: That's a facial tic and I would ask you not to draw undue attention to it. Actually, it's just one of those things Sally does. Some people have come to expect it. Others leave copious rants about it in their blogs. Frankly, I'm kinda in the middle on the subject. Maybe she should switch to something along the lines of a "death glare." Or just wrinkle her nose like "Bewitched." Hey, Sally with supernatural powers. And a sexy, evil cousin also played by Sally. Now we're talking comic strip!
Gene Weingarten: Wow. Excellent. I am surprised.
A novel idea:
Since Dave Barry's novel "Tricky Business" comes out in paperback today (shameless plug), I was wondering if you have ever tried your hand at pure fiction. I'm always looking for a good funny novel.
Gene Weingarten: I have writ a couple of screenplays with David Simon (Homicide, The Wire) but you have not yet seen them actually, um, made as movies. We're still hoping. If you are not Dave, why are you plugging his book? And you are not Dave.
Does your car have a personalized license plate of "Pthep" so people can recognize you and ask you grammatical questions while waiting for the light to turn green?
Gene Weingarten: This is an excellent idea!
In the Washington Post on Oct 6, page C4, Quentin Tarantino is quoted, "It was meant to be a really kick-[butt] movie..."
What do you think about this policy whereby newspapers substitute "acceptable" words for "unacceptable" words when everyone who is capable of reading knows what the replaced unacceptable word really is?
Gene Weingarten: Honestly, I think it is a really (fornicating) stupid thing to do.
Tantalus - it was even worse than that. He stood for eternity chin deep in water with fruit-laden branches hanging above him. But when he dipped his head to drink, the water receded; when he reached for the fruit, the branches rose out of his grasp.
Gene Weingarten: Thank you.
New York, N.Y.:
Any comment on the story about the guy who kept a tiger, hyena and caiman in his Harlem apartment? It was in all the papers up here. The police had to rapel down the side of the building to tranquilize the tiger before removing it.
The funniest thing about this story, I believe, is that this guy's downstairs neighbor was complaining about the "unusual amount of animal urine" leaking into her apartment.
My question to you is this: What's the "usual" amount of animal urine leaking into one's apartment?
Gene Weingarten: You clearly have only lived in New York a little while. There are municipal regulations on acceptable amounts, in cubic centimeters, of monthly animal urine leakage.
Falls Church, Va.:
I think Frazz is great, too, and I think part of the reason it strikes us as great is because the art style reminds us so much of Calvin. Not only does Frazz look like a grown-up Calvin (with the requisite changes to his hair as would occur with aging) but the smaller kids are very reminiscent of Calvin, with their little triangular mouths and round tongue showing. (I always thought that was a purely cartoon depiction until I had a daughter of my own, who at age 3 shows that little triangular mouth dozens of times a day, especially when she's in a mischievous mood).
Gene Weingarten: Jef, we're waiting....
So, did the Style editors get lashed with whatever noodles were lying around when Levey Blaired your Madison BTB article?
I love "Blaired" as a verb.
Gene Weingarten: Nah. Several people have asked about this. I am sure Levey had never seen my Madison column. It wasn't thievery, I wasn't upset, and I could be guilty of the same inadvertency at any point in the future. Yeah, some Style editor probably should have caught it, but, y'know, there's a lot of stuff to read in the paper.
Excuse me please. My name is Semasuwannashote Pthep from Cambodia. I have Virginia vanity license plates and people always me about English grammar. Can you help me?
Gene Weingarten: Made me laugh. Still laughing.
One F Jef:
Oh, great. I evidently can't work my computer, and now it looks like I'm dodging the tough questions. Let me try and answer that Calvin question again:
Yeah, Frazz does kind of look like a taller Calvin. And acts a little
like a balder Hobbes. That was unintentional, and frankly a little bit of a
surprise to me when I noticed it myself. It shouldn't have been, though. To
rip off George Bernard Shaw (see? I can steal knowingly, too), I'd say 90
percent of cartoonists are seriously influenced by Bill Watterson, and the
other 10 percent are lying. I've got a lot -- a LOT -- of other influences,
but since most of them aren't comic strips, the reverence isn't quite as
evident. Frazz's spiky hair, which seems to be the big starting point for
most people who make the comparison, wasn't modeled after Calvin's at all.
It was modeled after my own hair, half of which defies gravity and half of
which embraces it, and from all directions. I'd wager Frazz's hair resembles
Woodstock's head feathers more than Calvin's hair, but with the rest of my
drawing style being more angular, it does come closer to evoking Calvin's.
Whatever. I'm coming close to protesting too much. Suffice to say Bill
Watterson is the man, and if I'm influenced by him, I'm not about to hide
Gene Weingarten: There ya go.
I get it!;!; L'shana tova (better late than never) and I'm good for another year after yesterday!; No cursing or damning people to hell for awhile.
I hate "For Better or Worse" and I'm a female.
Gene Weingarten: Several women have so stated. So this is now noted.
Haven't this Red Sox team already blown their chance at infamy after coming back from two games down to beat win the best-of-five series last night? Even if they lose the World Series, they'd be compared to the lovable 1967 overachievers and not the 1947, 1975, 1978, and 1986 blunderheads. Not that I'm counting or anything.
Gene Weingarten: Ah, but you have not yet seen how they are going to lose to the Yankees. It's all in HOW they do it.
So how's the lightbulb with a paint smudge doing? Have you started another experiment with more bulbs -- perhaps supported by a large grant from taxpayer's funds? And is it ever possible for a lightbulb test to be double blind?
Gene Weingarten: The bulb burned out last week. Two and a half years. I have sent it to Sylvania scientist, who have agreed to perform an autopsy. I will be reporting the results in a column.
If you were the comics page editor...:
which strips would you ditch, which would you add, and which would you keep even though you don't find them funny yourself?
Frank Cho of "Liberty Meadows" used to whine about the fact (true or false?) that most comics page editors are female. His theory was that these editors are the ones keeping "Cathy" and "Sally Forth" and "FBOFW" going. Sounds insulting to me, as if female readers can't appreciate edgier humor.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, that sounds insulting to me, too. I would jettison any strip that doesn't seem funny to me. Now, I would NOT jettison Family Circus, because it seems to me that is so hilariously bad, it is, well, hilarious. I completely reject the argument that you need comics for children, and that these don't have to be funny to adults. This is wrong. Frazz is, in my opinion, targeted for children and funny to adults. I'd lose all the strips that ran out of ideas 20 years ago. All of them. And they are obvious.
Silver Spring, Md.:
So will Clemons plonk Ramirez just because the A's didn't?
Gene Weingarten: I would never, ever hope for the injury of another player. I would observe that Ramirez is the hugest anus playing the game today. But I don't want him hurt. I want him humiliated.
Just came in late. Saw something last night that bothered me. Saw a great parking place at the grocery. Got up to it and a sign said "for expectant mothers and women with infants". What really annoys me is that for decades women had to fight to stop pregnancy and motherhood from being viewed as a handicap and now, under the guise of a courtesy or a privilege, pregnant women are allowing themselves to be treated as handicapped. This may be too serious for your chat. If you don't want to post it I'll pass it on to Bob Levey. Thanks.
Gene Weingarten: I'd like to hear from women on this one. I know my pregnant wife was very grateful when people offered her a seat in the NY subways. I will also note, though it is off the point, that she noticed the only people regularly offering her a seat were women, and black men.
East Falls Church, Va.:
I realize we, as readers of the Post, are lucky regarding the quality and quantity of the comics page. However, I would like to suggest, even in the face of predictable minority response, that a simple rule for carrying a comic be put into use: Cancel any comic whose original author/artist is dead. That alone would free up a TON of space (think Peanuts, DtheM, Shoe, Blondie, The Soap Strips). I mean, it's for our own good!
Gene Weingarten: I agree. It's a good point. I would also kill all "niche" comics that aren't funny. Baldo, Curtis.
So, can the Red Sox beat the Yankees?
Gene Weingarten: They can, but they won't. They are the Red Sox.
Darn the Sox:
You just KNOW that the Sox are going to lose to the Yankees in agonizing fashion. Wouldn't it have been better for Bostonians (although not their pharmacists) to just have the Sox blow it last night against Oakland? Now, there's just another week of delaying the inevitable pain, except this time with the knowledge that they were one round closer to the World Series?
Gene Weingarten: Darn the Sox is nice. Yes, this is the Whole Beauty of the Thing.
Hey, speaking of Darn the Sox -- anyone notice that headline in the Sports Section Today??? It was either horrible or wonderful: Curse Is Foiled Again.
One F Jef:
I'll point out here that kids and adults are still of the same species. One is just more advanced. I'm still not sure which.
I don't think I'm doing anything amazing by appealing to both with Frazz. That more strips (and movies and books and tv shows) don't is what's amazing.
Gene Weingarten: Agreed. Cal and Hobbes did both.
Hugest anus? Gak. I'm through eating lunch. Thanks.
Ya, thanks Mr. Classy.
Gene Weingarten: I guess I didn't just damage appetites out there, I WRECKED 'EM.
"My pregnant wife" -- Is your wife currently pregnant or did you mean to say "When my wife was pregnant"??
Gene Weingarten: NYC was a clue. I am talking about 1981.
RE: Only people regularly offering her a seat were women, and black men.
Okay Rush, are you saying black men are effeminate?
Gene Weingarten: No, don't misinterpret me here! This is dangerous territory! I'm saying all women are black men.
Ok, I am convinced. We NEED "Frazz" in the paper. Now, fearless leader, HOW do we do this?
Gene Weingarten: I'm working on it. But you COULD write to the Post comics editor, Shirley Carswell.
Can you keep the comic strips where the author
didn't so much give up the ghost but simply writing
duties and royalties, like my job at "Sally Forth"? I
need the money, people! Where else am I supposed
to get that kind of cash?! Cockfighting? The chicken
will beat the living crap out of me.
Gene Weingarten: Howdy, Francesco. I was a friend of the first guy who started Sally Forth. Whatsizname. The lawyer. Funny man. Couldn't draw. He was right to get out of the drawing biz You draw better. I know that's not saying much, but I think you draw well.
You ever see the Style Invitational parody of Sally? The game was to put a new kicker on the strip. This is one where Ted was worrying about his masculinity, and he and Sal were at the sink, and he was washing dishes, but you couldn't really see the dishes, just the spigot and water flowing down toward his middle, and a reader put this dialog line in Sally's mouth: "You know, if you water it, it won't grow."
Shirley you can't be serious?:
Shirley isn't one of those men with a female name, is he/she? When a point is pointed, it's pointy.
Gene Weingarten: Shirley's a girl.
That you haven't yet won the pulitzer is such a crime.
Gene Weingarten: Thank you. I'll say goodbye on this note.
Thank you all. Great input. See you next week.
As a handicapped pregnant woman, I am insulted.
OK, I am neither handicapped nor pregnant. But accepting preferential parking when one has a difficult time getting around is not a sign of personal weakness, for either group. Jeez.
Gene Weingarten: Agreed.
Parking for Preggers and Moms, DC:
I as a mom of two, I think the signs are a good idea for parents of infants and toddlers. Between all the gear moms need to transport the kids and unpredictability of little ones, the moms need the close up spots. I don't think pregnant women need the spots though. It's better that they park further away from the stores and get exercise walking.
Gene Weingarten: Ok.