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Chatological Humor* (Updated 2.11.05)

Demolish This.

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 8, 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)

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

He'll chat about anything.

This week's poll.

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. "Below the Beltway" is now syndicated nationally by The Washington Post Writers Group.

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. I hab a code.

It is one of those colds that begins in one nostril, so you find yourself breathing through the other nostril only, which is a weird sensation, ushering in a sort of peaceful Zenlike yoga-ish state in which you are one with the universe and in tune with the celestial harmonies until you suddenly cough up a loogie the size of a Denver Bronco shoulder pad.

The next stage is phlegmy, so you are constantly clearing your throat. But, after you do that, you don't say anything. So you sound like a hapless bureaucrat, a sniveling Walter Mitty, forever trying to get a word in edgewise, and forever failing.

I hab a code. An existential, coldly ironic cold.

I got a great email yesterday from reader Cooby (!) Greenway, who noted my column had mentioned a World War I carrier-pigeon message. Cooby supplied a piece of trivia that is both useless and wonderful:

"A few summers ago, the Smithsonian received the Maidenform archives. I volunteer in the Museum of American History Archives and went along with the summer interns to the clothing section upstairs, to see the actual garments. There were a number of interesting factoids I learned that day, but the best, by far, was: Maidenform made the pouch that held the pigeons!

"There, in one of the boxes with the bras was this pouch! It is a thin gauzy material, with a zipper. It is held against the soldier's chest by thin straps. We were told the pigeons could be kept like that for only 5 or so hours. Not much time."

Doughboys wore bras! Who knew?

Okay, take today's poll. I will, as always, explain the correct answers at the end.

No CPOW today, but plenty of worthy strips, segregated by subject matter below.

Okay, let's go.


washingtonpost.com: Comics This Week:

Profoundly Good:
Tank McNamara (Feb. 6)
Doonesbury (Feb. 6)

Just Funny:
Pickles (Feb. 6)
Candorville (Feb. 8)

Weirdly Funny:
Beetle Bailey (Feb. 7)
Frazz (Feb. 7)

Below the Beltway: Whee the People, (Post Magazine, Feb. 6)

Vote in today's poll.


Having a Gay Old Time in Paris, Tex.: Are there any linguist historians in our midst? Was the "f" word always a naughty word? Some bad words were once acceptable words that have been basterdized... umm, I mean, given birth, into swear words due to the changing times and the way a nice innocent word was used to connotate something naughty. I ask because I wonder, when the official census used the "f" word as an occupation, maybe that was an official occupation then and the word was a commonly accepted word to describe the work? Or, maybe the census was just a jerk political hack who hated the women. I wonder what led to that census recording.

Gene Weingarten: No, no. That was not an official census term, I assure you. Archivists were astonished to find that. My guess is that the women were 1) prostitutes, and 2) illiterate, so the guy was having fun at their expense, in a way they could not understand. They may well, of course, not have been prostitutes. And he was just a bastard.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Whee the People, (Post Magazine, Feb. 6)


Rossyln, Va.: Across the street from my office an antiquated office building is being torn down. For two weeks bulldozers and wrecking balls just dominated the structure into a post-apocalyptic pile of brick, wires, and coils, and everything else that comprises the innards of buildings. Everyone I walked by it, I gazed at the destruction, and almost ran into a telephone pole or tripped on the curb numerous times. Many other men were equally as awe-struck and consumed by the demolition. However, I did not notice one woman who appeared distracted by the mess. Why is that -- a fundamental difference between the sexes, disdain for destruction, years of conditioning to maintain the maximum length difference from all construction workers, or just indifference?

Gene Weingarten: Boys take things apart to see how they work. Girls do not. This is the absolutely ultimate in take-apart. End of story.

Gene Weingarten: Chatwoman saw the above answer early, and is sputtering and fuming about it. She is comparing me unfavorably to the president of Harvard, and to Joey Buttafuoco, and to Visigoths, pointing out among other things that HER technological expertise is vastly superior to mine, and thus such.

I will point out only that 1) We are trafficking not in absolutes, but in valid, empirically observable generalities and 2) Ms. Chatwoman to my knowledge has not had a boy and a girl child, and watched them growing up.


Asasbi Gazanor, CA: Why oh why did you have to include the picture of Ms. Guisewite in your poll? I have been able to delude myself for years that it was mere coincidence that her comic strip is called "Cathy." But now I know that she looks JUST LIKE CATHY. I am worried that she acts just like Cathy, too. What if the world is full of Cathys?

washingtonpost.com: Yes, the world is full of Cathys. All women (make that "girls" -- we like it better) are over-emotional creatures who, while pretty, don't understand math and science.

Gene Weingarten: There, there, Lizzie.

Cathy Guisewite does not look remotely like Cathy. For one thing, she has a nose. A kind of perky one, at that.


Washington, D.C.: I was surprised to read in today's sports section that Rafael Palmeiro's name "had never been linked with performance-enhancing drugs."

Somebody missed those Viagra commercials?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahahaha.


Curiou, US: A woman my wife and I had never met delivered an item to our house the other day. We chatted for a few moments and she left. Later in the day, my wife asked me how old I thought the woman was. I told her I hadn't given it any thought, and why was she thinking about it. My wife said that she often wonders about the age of people she meets or sees and was surprised that I did not share this curiousity.

I wondered whether this was a gender thing. This morning I was having coffee with two female co-workers and asked them about it. They both fell in my wife's camp -- often speculating about the ages of others, especially woman, to see how they stacked up, so to speak. They, too, were surprised that I did wonder about this. One said, "you mean if you see an attractive woman, you don't wonder how old she is?" I explained that, upon seeing an attractive woman, I might wonder what she look like naked, but not of her age. And, I added that I believed that most men would answer the same.

Is this a gender issue, or is it just me?

Gene Weingarten: I think men sometimes wonder very hard about whether a girl is, um, 17 or 18. But that's about it.


Silver Spring, Md.: Gene, I am he (I've been out of the loop for a bit) who a few weeks ago challenged your assertion that you could not imagine anyone preferring death over indignity (e.g., roo-roo). In response, you discussed your own preference, that any non-fatal indignity is preferable to death, unless guilt for injury to another was involved. But my challenge was not to YOUR preference, but to your statement that you could not imagine ANYONE preferring otherwise.

As a matter of historical fact, people have been choosing death over indignity for thousands of years -- rape victims, dishonored politicians, drunk drivers, clinically depressed people, samurai warriors, etc.

You admit that you could not handle guilt. Many others have not been able to handle shame, impardonable shame.

That was my point. But I do love you.

Gene Weingarten: Understood, but I think you are making my point. The one exception I made WAS shame.

Yes, I could imagine choosing death over living with some terrible shame that would, in effect, consign me to a stunted life of self-loathing and self-destruction.

On a related matter, I have always wondered whether pure altruism even exists. Take my case: In giving up my life to save my child's life, or my wife's life, am I acting purely out of love and selflessness, or am I acting largely out of the knowledge that NOT taking that action would destroy ME?

I'm not sure we can ever know. Same thing with love, in general. Is it selfless or selfish. Actually, Blake had something wonderful to say about this. I am quoting from memory, so I might be a little off:

Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease
And builds a heaven in Hell's despair.

So sang a little clod of clay,
trodden by the cattle's feet,
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres mete:

Love seeketh only self to please
To bind another to its delight
Joys in another's loss of ease
And builds a Hell in Heaven's despite.

Isn't this a classy chat? Now back to the shoulder-pad loogies.


Chateau Thierry: Yes, doughboys wore bras. Where do think they got the phrase "Support Our Troops?"

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Alexandria, Va.: I need to applaud your use of "Eight brass monkeys from the ancient, sacred crypts of Egypt" a few chats back. Now running through my head is, "One Hand, Two Ducks, Three Squaking Geese..."

Gene Weingarten: One HEN, two ducks, three squawking geese....


Washington, D.C.: OK, Valentine's Day is right around the corner and, to be honest, I couldn't care less. Actually, the "holiday" annoys the living "sheet" out of me. It, along with Mother's Day, and Father's Day are meaningless holidays. If someone loves me, whatever the root of the relationship, I can think of no more insulting thing than to have one proscribed day per year for that person to express that sentiment in a trite, saccharine manner. For those people who are so unfortunate as to not have the proper relationship on that given day, society contrives to make them feel less than adequate and, perhaps, even outcast.

Gene, what's your opinion?

(For the record, I am a married woman -- with children -- with standing instructions to NOT acknowledge Valentine's Day or Mother's Day. And, yes, my family loves me, and I know this for a fact.)

washingtonpost.com: Just for you.

Gene Weingarten: Yikes. You are out-grinching me.

I can't say I disagree with you, though I give presents on Vals and Moms day. I do it because it is an excuse to give a present. It's only a short extension of your philosophy to say, why give birthday presents? Why artificially define someone's worth by some random day in the year they happened to be born?

Why call someone the name they were given decades before by people who didn't even know them? Why take the "weekends" off just because someone designates them weekends?

I, for one, refuse to go down this cold and desolate road.


Wilmington, Del.: I saw that full body shot on Dave's blog and, Gene, I am lobbing these virtual panties your way!

washingtonpost.com: Body Shot

Gene Weingarten: So you like hugely fat blobby men?

I look like a manatee. I'm not actually built to those dimensions.


Today's Poll: Gene, having two characters finally get married is a time-honored way TV series jump the shark and squeeze another season out of something that's been lifeless for a while. Ms. Guiseweite had to do it eventually or her strip would have gone the way of "Garfield."

I suspect that actual reason you're sorry you ran this poll is essentially this -- you try to appear as a modern, pro-feminist man; but you know that Guiseweite is right about how weddings bring out female emotionalism. You want to criticize her for exacerabting stereotypes of women, but you know she's right and you're wrong.

washingtonpost.com: You're soooo wrong, and you're generalizing. I am a female. Weddings like the one depicted in "Cathy" make me want to VOMIT. And, for what it's worth, you can't spell exacerbating.

Gene Weingarten: He also can't spell Guisewite. He is also a he. No woman would write this.


Not Harry Potter: Ok, I will say it, I look like Harry Potter. A whole lot. To give you an idea of how much I look like him, when I met the Empress of the Style Invitational at a Starbucks, I told her to look for Harry Potter... she recognized me before she entered the door. When I worked retail this past holiday season, customers would walk in the door just to call me Harry Potter. My question is, is there any way I can both kill and sue the actor who perpetuates this horror? No jury in the world would convict me.

Barring that, is there anything I could do that would make me so famous that people would start saying that Harry Potter looks like me?

Gene Weingarten: In fact, there IS such a thing. You would have to kill Harry Potter.


Washington, D.C.: How do you fold a fitted sheet?

Thank you.

Gene Weingarten: I don't.

You're welcome.


Washington D.C.: Why do I always bite my nails?

Gene Weingarten: You are punishing yourself for having a small penis.


I agree with Chatwoman: Destruction may not interest most women, but we all want to see how things work. Some of us turn to engineering, some turn to picking apart relationships, but all women are interested in how things work.

Gene Weingarten: Oooh, interesting. I concede.


Denver, Colo.: Gene, this has been bugging me for some time now and I'm sure you are the right person to ask. Is there a hierarchy as to where comics are placed in newspapers? For example, the better ones go above the fold on the first page? thanks.

Gene Weingarten: I think it depends on the paper. Most papers are really nervous about kids reading adult-type strips, so they will segregate them thus. The Post, I think, is basically doing this: the last page is the kiddie page, supposedly, but it is an imperfect segregation.


Hypochondri, AK: How does a hypochondriac know when they're really sick? If every gas pain is appendicitis, ever case of your arm falling asleep is a heart attack, and every headache is a brain tumor, how do you decide when to actually seek medical attention? If you went to the doctor every time you thought you were dying, you'd never do anything else. You can't rush to the ER every day. And yet, like a stopped clock that's right twice a day, eventually you really ARE going to be dying.

I have visions of all these hypochondriacs dying of easily treatable diseases whose last words are "I'm sure it's nothing, I'm just being a hypochondri...aargh!"

Gene Weingarten: Different hypochondriacs deal with this differently. I seldom went to the doctor; I suffered in heroic silence, ultimately "curing" myself after the symptoms did not get worse. I realized that meant it was probably not what I feared, and the symptoms went away.


Williamstown, Mass.: Gene-
I am disappointed to say that this is not going to be a funny post. However, I tried for about three hours on Friday to reach you and this chat is my last option. I am a ninth grader at a public high school in Massachusetts. My English teacher has given us an assignment in which we must interview a writer or "lover of literature" about their favorite piece of expository writing, (essays, reviews, critical analyses, etc.) how this piece has influenced your life, and where I might find the piece. I would like to interview you in the hopes of getting an interesting piece of writing for what I see as being a rather boring project. If you could get back to me, (but don't want to clog your chat with unfunny rambles like mine) my email adress is [edited] Thank you for your time,
Emily Baker-White

washingtonpost.com: You're in ninth grade?

Gene Weingarten: Email me at weingarten(at)washpost.com

Actually while we are on the subject, will the 27-year-old Connecticut librarian who wrote in also email me at the above address? We Have To Talk.


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Do you have any particularly good stories of Valentine's Day hell? Surely you've done many stupid things on this incredible opportunity of a day.

washingtonpost.com: Preemptive Link: If You Go Chasing Rabbits..., (Post, Feb. 11, 2001)

Gene Weingarten: Sigh.


New Mexico (we're part of the USA -- we swear!): Since you are a comic strip expert, would you kindly help a poor student of humor with Monday's Mallard Fillmore by pointing out the punchline, if any? I'm sure it's just that I'm not getting it. Otherwise, what's the point, right? Right?
Thank you.

Gene Weingarten: I think this is pretty good. There isn't a punchline so much as a point. And it's clear. My biggest problem with this is that the meter is so screwed up you don't even realize it is a poem. I like the caricature. This is a lot better than most Mallards.


Treasonous Hum,OR: I got to thinking about the guy who accused The Daily Show of being "borderline treasonous" and why conservatives seem to take such offense at satirical attacks on their sacred cows. Could they be jealous that progressives tend to be more clever and funny while right-wingers are generally strident whiners or outright dullards? To which I say, "It evens out. You have all the money. Don't begrudge us our wit."

Gene Weingarten: Illustrating your point, check out today's famously conservative "Prickly City." Not a fountain of subtle brilliant wit, I fear.

washingtonpost.com: Prickly City, (Feb. 8)


More comics questions: How do you read the comics? I find myself saving the second page to read last because of "Frazz." But since you are the comic critic, I assume you read them all, but in what order?

Gene Weingarten: Back to front, bottom right to top left, and no, I have no idea why. I have to mark them and stuff, though. It is almost an Ordeal.


Question for Pat the Perfe, CT: Which one is better for "you are not:" you aren't, or you're not? Why?

Note to Gene: Poop.

Gene Weingarten: This is a really stupid question. I like it. Pat, are you out there?


Oak Hill: It's always a disappointment when The Post prints photos of their reporters. Sometimes it's best to let the readers fantasize, instead of slapping us with the reality that you guys are, for lack of a better word, ouchie mama.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, several years ago I took an at-bat against a single-A pitcher, Carmen Cali of the Potomac Cannons. I went in the locker room. Afterwards, my wife tactfully asked me if the scene in the locker room was similar to the scene in the Washington Post locker room. No, I said. She loves me. She knew when to ask no further questions.


The Empress of The Style Invitational: Re: the dead ringer for Harry Potter. While he does look exactly, freakily like Harry, it should also be known that Mr. Notpotter is 24 years old, with a master's degree and a fiancee. He is absolutely adorable.

Gene Weingarten: Ooooooooooooh.


washingtonpost.com: Speaking of photos... It's been several weeks now since Gene promised he would get a new illustration for this page. Not that I don't love the Richard Thompson art... but it's time for a change.

Now, as sometimes happens when confronted with an immovable barrier (in this case, Gene's inability or unwillingness to ask Shansby to spend two minutes drawing us a new one), I've come up with a better idea: Each week, I'll post a different reader-submitted illustration of Gene. If this makes it through legal, I'll post the first one -- by me -- next week.


Alexandria, Va.: Gene: The Post has been silent on the op-ed John Dean wrote for the Los Angeles Times that Deep Throat is suffering from an illness. Dean says his source at The Post told him Woodward told Downie that. Any comment? Any speculation on who Throat (as Dean annoyingly refers to him by) is?

Gene Weingarten: You're not getting me to tell you who Throat is. I promised Woodward.


Herndon, Va.: Ever wish you could rewrite a column?

Gene Weingarten: Um, yes. I am thinking you also wish I could have rewritten a column or two.


washingtonpost.com: Vote in today's poll.


Anonymous: Aw, c'mon Gene. I'm not a "Cathy" fan (and have never been), but I've enjoyed the wedding story. It's been funnier and sweeter than I ever would have expected it to be. (I particularly liked the 2/1 entry, because it was just too silly). Plus, her dress was cute. It definitely doesn't deserve the bile you're heaping here.

I think your general disdain for marriage, and hatred of both weddings and the "Cathy" strip, are making it impossible for you to see anything positive about what's actually been a pretty fun story line.

Gene Weingarten: Yours is the only such posting so far, but I welcome others.


Don Arvezo's Tweezers: My dad taught me the "one hen, two ducks" ditty when I was about six. I'm now mid-30s and we still have conversations that include people who "haul and stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivvy, all at the same time." Other people just don't get it. Thanks for getting it, Gene. And by the way, who IS Don Arvezo?

Gene Weingarten: Don Alverzo.


Pat the Perfect, ME: "You're not" and "You aren't" are equally fine. (English is a versatile language.) I like "Pat the Perfe, CT," by the way. I may have to change my residence.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Olney, Md.: On the off chance you haven't heard about this, I wanted to warn you:

A scam is being pulled all over the Metro DC area, mainly on older men.

What happens is that when you stop for a red light, a young nude woman comes up and pretends to be washing your windshield. While she is doing this, another person opens your back door and steals anything in the car.

They are very good at this: They got me seven times Friday and five times Saturday.

I wasn't able to find them on Sunday.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Vatican City: Gene, if you were so inclined, what is the one thing you would give up for Lent?

Gene Weingarten: This cold.


My last name is Potter: ... but I'm a female. So the inevitable question, when people learn my name, is "Do you have a brother named Harry?" Gene -- help me -- I need a creative response to this STUPID STUPID STUPID question when people ask me! (Current response = eyeballs rolling, with a sarcastic "You know, no one has EVER asked me that before...")

(For the record, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that, I'd be well on my way to matching J.K. Rowling's bank account. Sad, but true!)

Gene Weingarten: "No, I have a brother named Guido. And he hates people who ask me if I have a brother named Harry."


P St.: To quote Mr. Barry, I absolutely am not making this up: We just received a change-of-address card from some friends in California. Their new home is on Golden Rain Lane. How to respond?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha. You have to p--- all over them.


Girls too: Gene, I grew up disassembling clocks, toasters, sweaters, dolls (I hate dolls), bikes, and anything else I could to see how they all worked and to put them back together again. I am now and have always been female, and I'm almost pretty darn feminine. You are a dork, but I like you anyway.

Gene Weingarten: And I am kinda sweet on you, too.


Atlanta, Ga.: Oh, come on Gene -- women do take things apart. They're called men.

Gene Weingarten: Precisely.


Girl in D.C.: Gene,

I would like to weigh in on this wedding issue. I did the formal wedding thing in hopes it would be a lovefest of celebration and togetherness. Boy, did that backfire. Both families were miserable, people didn't like the food and party favors -- and told us at the wedding, and so on.

Although I know I didn't turn into a Bridezilla during this (I have grad school finals the day before so was hugely distracted), I can say honestly that neither of us would ever do the big wedding again. I am happy to be married to my husband five years later (sans children, but still my husband), but the whole wedding this is... gross. I have tried to talk many friends into the intimate wedding/eloping thing, with variable success.

Gene Weingarten: Yah... My first wedding was big. My second involved four people, and one was the city hall janitor.


Super Bow, LA: Gene,

What did you think of this year's Super Bowl commercials? I thought it was a weak crop but with a few standouts. The Ameriquest ones about "Don't judge too quickly" were cute.


Gene Weingarten: Oh, no question. The best was the bleeding cat. I liked godaddy.com, too. It was an edited version, and when you see the original 2 minute commercial (it's on godaddy website) you are glad it was edited. It's just tedious.


Warn Chatwoman: To not post links to such long articles until the end of the chat. I am enjoying the article, but missing the chat...

washingtonpost.com: sorry!

Gene Weingarten: You can read the chat later. C'woman likes that.


Wow: You can't write p--- on a Washington Post chat? Really?

Is there a formal list of words that you are not allowed to use? Can you let us know, creatively, what those words are? I'm absolutely fascinated.

Gene Weingarten: I was being overly cautious.


TANK Tanked: Tank whatever is not funny, it's stupid and been done before. Where's the electricity for the TV coming from... where's the TV coming from for that matter.

Oooh how profound. I can buy a new SUV while some kid watches tv in a third world country. Yup.

Gene Weingarten: Mr. Vice President, I've asked you to stop sharking this chat.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Gene.

This whole "they're just words people" argument is starting to grate now. Sure on the one hand the Aristocrats does superbly make that point, and to say that language, both written and spoken, isn't rife with inadequacies and inaccuracies is laughable, but on the other hand to say that words carry no emotional weight or should not be used with due consideration is at best naive and at worst dangerous. It's like saying that thoughts can't hurt people. It might be more comfortable to live with the belief that words and thoughts are innocuous and that it is us silly humans who give them any power, but then it is us silly humans who give them their power. As long as the world has people who abuse the power that language can have, and I mean all the way from someone like Hilter on down to the schoolyard bully, to continue to trumpet the "they're just words people" mantra is to small-mindedly ignore the fact that some words are just not funny and what's more that some words are just plain menacing. As someone who makes a living manipulating language it is particularly egregious coming repeatedly from you, and I am a woman who for the most part really likes you.

Gene Weingarten: Whoa, whoa.

I am not suggesting that words cannot hurt. Words can be devastating. They can launch fanatical armies ("Deus volt!"), create a thousand Kristallnachts, wound a child for all his life, and whatnot. When I said "they are just words," I was discussing humor.

To me, tastelessness in the honest pursuit of humor is no vice. Humor is by its very nature subversive, and I give a pass to anyone who, in an honest effort to entertain, may cross a line and cause offense.

This does not mean I would TELL the Aristocrats joke to strangers. Subversive humor is all about understanding the soul and motives of the teller: When comics tell The Aristocrats to each other, they all know what the joke means: Nothing. It is a joke about the inability to cross some lines, and they all get it, and no one in the room thinks for a second, "Whoa, that guy really believes 9/11 is a laughing matter, he must be a real sicko. " It is Just Words.

I will tell all sorts of ethnic jokes to close friends. They know what I am really like -- they understand that I am not expressing my opinion, but making jokes about the silliness and unfairness of stereotypes. I would not tell such a joke in this forum, beause you don't have that knowledge about me, and you might well reasonably and rationally take offense.

You know what's hysterically funny? When members of some ethnic or cultural group act EXACTLY like the stereotype of that group supposes they would act. That is funny, not because it is supporting the case that, say, all Jews are cheap, but because we know the stereotype is patently unfair, and yet here is grist for the dimwit mill. That's funny.


Awesome Aptonym: My husband alerted me to this, and I screamed that I had to let Gene know! There is a high school basketball player in Washington named Taryn Cartledge.

High School Sports Roundup, (Seattle Times, Jan. 9)

Gene Weingarten: Wowowowow. That is GREAT.


Washington, D.C.: Submitting under a pseudonym (or pseudolocus), as I don't want my boss to know I'm wasting company time. Achenbach is whining in his chat that you get more readers and better questions, etc. Is he always this whiny?

My question is this, though: what are the top three washingtonpost.com chats, in terms of questions submitted? I would guess Hax, then you, then maybe Leiby or Amy Joyce. Can you demand higher rates than say, Dr. Gridlock, for the ads on your page because your chat is so popular? And if so, why aren't we getting kickbacks?

washingtonpost.com: If anyone should be getting kickbacks, it's me.

Gene Weingarten: Only Chatwoman can answer this question, and she guards these round figures as resolutely as a eunuch guards a harem.


This chat, I think, is Number One or Number Two. As it were.


McLean, Va.: The news that Deep Throat might be in fading health has got me thinking... hasn't the Pope also recently had health issues? Coincidence?

Gene Weingarten: So has the Chief Justice.


King of Nep, AL: That picture reminded me of a story about my grandfather. He was a very funny man, in a quiet and sweet way way, and he was someone who would take hundreds of pictures on every occasion. I went to visit him as he was dying of cancer. I had send him pictures of my wedding from four months before. He could barely speak and hardly move, but he struggled to say "tree" and make a motion toward his head. I finally figured out that he was making a joke about a plam tree that looked like it was growing out of my husband's head in the picture. He died less than 48 hours later. I still love that picture.

Gene Weingarten: I find this really moving. I'm misting up, here at my computer. Seriously.

On his deathbed, your grampa hadn't lost sight of the Meaning of Life.


Arlington, Va.: Good morning, Gene-

So, last Monday I was watching that TV show, "Airline," about Southwest, and they were showing a segment about one of the employees. She mentioned her children -- and I promise I am not making this up -- named "Dallas" and "Kennedy." I don't think she realized the perverse humor in this pairing of names. My husband and I sat in shock for a moment and then about fell out of our chairs laughing. Do we need help?

Gene Weingarten: That is hilarious. Wouldn't you think that people who are NAMING A CHILD FOR ALL TIME would think about this a little?


Gene Weingarten:
Okay, the poll. Well, not many people seemed to find much redeeming in the last year of Cathys, thank goodness. A, B and C in question one are all valid answers. Ordinarily, I would go with the "not funny" answer, but the horrifying, baseless, merciless assault on the female sex pushes me to select B.

Now, distinguishing between these awful strips is a difficult task. Humor is a harsh mistress, but the absence of humor is like a dominatrix with stubble, chest hair, a prominent goiter, and a whip. Still, we must distinguish.

You could reasonably go with E, since nothing funny happens, and there is no punch line, and the dogs' reaction makes no sense. Or you could go with D, since it is not at all clear who is supposed to be on which side of the closed door before it opens, but nothing is worse than the "Waaaah" strip. (B) It is an insult to women, it is not funny, it is hysterical in a bad way, and it is, just generally, summational of the previous year of hell.

The only halfway decent cartoon is C. It has a joke: women worry about the size of their butts. Not a GREAT joke, but a joke. It tries, a little.

And yes. Cathy is a piece. Dang. Now I'll never have a shot.


Washington D.C.: more on the f-&- word...
Got through a Google search...

"In ancient England a person could not have sex unless you had consent of the King (unless you were in the Royal Family). When anyone wanted to have a baby, they got consent of the King, the King gave them a placard that they hung on their door while they were having sex. The placard had F.-.-.-. (Fornication Under Consent of the King) on it. Now you know where that came from."

Gene Weingarten: Yes, that is nonsense, as is "Fornication and Unlawful Carnal Knowledge."


Mark Felt: Why does everyone keep asking how my health is?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.


RE: Male/Female generalities: OK, I'm a woman and I agree with Gene on this, but my problem is the only way I'm a "typical" female is that I look like one (rather pretty and buxom, yet trim) and I'm attracted to men. I don't watch Lifetime movies or talk shows. I watch scientific documentaries or sports. I thought the coolest thing about the Container Store was the transparent elevator walls. I've never wondered how old another female is but I marveled at all the "legal" boys when I went to my alma mater for a football game. I can go for hours at work before I bother to look in the mirror. I hate to shop for clothes. If a man gave me an engagement ring, I would trade it in for a wide screen plasma TV. I've never asked anyone if I look fat in something, because that's what mirrors are for. I mean, do you have ANY idea how difficult this is for me? You'd think I'd be the perfect women, but in reality, 95 percent of the population, men and women, treats me like I'm a freak! Not that I would chang e, but it does get a bit disconcering at times. (Did I spell that right?)

Gene Weingarten: Um, don't men LIKE this?


Ashburn, Va.: As if the wave of "Madisons" wasn't enough, I just heard a mother call for her daughter "Nixon" at the playground.

Gene Weingarten: Ew.


Frozen Airplane Poop: I don't know if you saw this yet, but figured you weren't aware as we hadn't talked about it on your chat. A woman in Massachussetts found her car smashed when frozen chunks of human feces fell from an airplane and hit the car.

I think the most striking aspect of the story is that the waste actually collected on the outside of the plane. Maybe pilots need side mirrors on their planes to monitor the size of their external frozen excrement collections.

Gene Weingarten: The most "striking" aspect?

Sadly, I missed this story. I count on you guys to keep me informed of important news in my bailiwick.


Washingtoon: "(F-word)ing"? Wow.

So how are all those other newspapers taking to your humor?

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Whee the People, (Post Magazine, Feb. 6)

Gene Weingarten: Well, I'm glad you asked. Several newspapers seem to have eliminated that item altogether, or changed it to read "(fornicating)," which kills the joke. The previous week, one newspaper killed the Kotex item entirely, another deleted the notion of snorting methamphetamine through an empty Bic pen fuselage.

This syndication thing may prove to be a grand, failed experiment out in the Heartland. We'll see!

Kansas City and St. Petersburg and a few other places seem to get it just fine, though.


Arlington, Va.: Gene,
I have been reading a lot of Bill Bryson. What do you think of his work? I have always thought that if you started writing travel pieces, it would turn out a lot the same. He is funny in your opinion?


Gene Weingarten: I love Bill Bryson. His Everything book kept me awake many a night, when I was trying to go to sleep.


New York, N.Y.: Hi Gene,
I thought you might find this humorous. The guy who writes "Sally Forth" has a Web site where he posts humor columns and his other daily comic strip. But he also posts all the "Sally Forth" hate mail he gets. There's a particularly funny hand-written one at the bottom of this page.

Gene Weingarten: This is great.


Gene Weingarten: Sigh. I have received many complaints from women that I have not given them adequate time and space to vent their elaborate and heartfelt thoughts about tampons and pads. So I am going to yoke them all together in the next post. Gentlemen, feel free to avert your eyes.


Gene Weingarten: That time of the month...: I think the issue stems from the fact that pretty much everyone starts out on pads, and graduating to tampons as an adolescent is pretty much tantamount to graduating out of pull-ups as a toddler. So if you never "graduate..."

In favor of tampons: If you do it right, you can't feel it and it doesn't leak. However, I have had two stressful episodes in which a change of shorts was badly needed because of a leaking tampon to feel completely comfortable wearing one. Also, I tend to get fairly painful cramps during the first day, and tampons seem to compound this problem significantly.
On the other hand, wearing a pad feels like a diaper. Complete with the... slooshy feeling... if you haven't changed it in a couple hours too many. It's a lose-lose situation if you ask me.

washingtonpost.com: And, quite frankly, unfair. I really would like to invent a pill or something that would allow a man to experience the pain and inconvenience of this cycle... just once for each man.

Pouches and pads: Tampon use is linked with cervical cancer and TSS. The exposure to dioxins is generally higher. So I'll take inconvenience and risk of leakage/stench/noise over any health risk. An alternative is "the keeper," which I have not tried.

Auntie Flo: I (a woman) seriously do not understand the "quietest pouch" stuff. Why would any woman care about making noise doing a completely natural act? The noise is in the bathroom (hopefully), which is the right place to change a tampon or maxi pad. Such noises are expected there. I'm sure the woman in the next stall could understand. After all, she's likely had to change a tampon or maxi pad about 250 times in the past year. Now, if one wanted to change a tampon in some other location, the quietest pouch might be an advantage. I would say, though, that she would have deeper concerns than that little noise.
Tampons vs. Pads, Washington, D.C.: This is a sensitive issue. Girls who use tampons exclusively look at girls who use pads as only slightly less gross than people who let their pants touch the bottom of the bathroom floor.
However, pad technology has improved. On a personal note, I use both regularly. I guess you could say I'm bi-period.


Denver, Colo.: Gene, have you worked with Carl Hiassen? Perhaps you were his editor at the Herald? I just finished reading "Skinny Dip" and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I edited Carl many times. Hiaasen. Two a's, one s.

He is brilliant.


Washington, D.C.: Weddings like this would not make Chatwoman vomit if not for the fact that they obviously stir up strong emotions in her.

People don't vomit when things don't stir up emotions. When you see a couple holding hands you don't want to vomit, because you don't care.

Wanting to vomit at a saccharine wedding betrays Chatwoman's strong emotions stirred up by scary marriage.

washingtonpost.com: Holding hands is a natural, touching thing. $4,000 wedding dresses, wedding planners and forced gift-giving are not.

Gene Weingarten: Chatwoman, will you marry me?


Spongeb, OB: Again, a comics theme -- today's "Non Sequitur" AND "Close to Home" both with the Sponge Bob's gay theme... curious? Coincidental?

washingtonpost.com: Non Sequitur, (Feb. 8)
Close to Home, (Feb. 8)

Gene Weingarten: Nah, this just obviously spun off the news.


Picture: Gene, why did you put that picture of Ms. Cathy in the poll? Are you under the impression that she is attractive? (She's not). Or are you saying that she looks frightening and that she might come after you if you criticize her comic? Or did you just figure out the technology for attaching pictures to polls, and you were determined to use that new-found skill? I'm confused... what gives? I can't complete the poll until I know.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, several posters have questioned my judgment on Cathy's looks. I am guessing this is a male-female thing.


Ans Sejo, CA: Please use the word catacomb in a sentence:

"I just saw Gene's picture in the Washington Post Writers Group, and man, someone needs to get that catacomb!"

Gene Weingarten: True fact: I have never owned a comb.


washingtonpost.com: Let me get through husband #2 first. I'll let you know how that works out. Gene Weingarten: Ok. Well, you know where to find me. Your views on weddings are VERY sexy.


Reston, Va.: Okay, I'm female and I completely averted my eyes after a few lines. Yuck. Why do these women want to talk about this?

I related to the woman who wrote in earlier who is not like most women. Guys don't dig me either, but whatever, I can deal.

Gene Weingarten: I have said this before: I think more guys want women to be more like men than women want men to be more like women. Clear?


Jumpingthesh, Ark.: Gene,

If the TV expression is "jumping the shark," then can the comparable comics expression be "marrying Irving"?



Washington, D.C.: Yeah, that Fornication Under... thing is completely bogus.

My understanding is that many words that the Saxons used for certain functions became uncouth after 1066 when the Normands took over England. The f-word is nothing more than a variation of a Saxon word that became impolite once the upper class began speaking French.

The funny thing is the translation, though. Apparantly the Saxon word itself was taken from the Middle Dutch word for "to beat against."

Gene Weingarten: If I remember correctly, the root word (as it were) is the Germanic "ficken."


bli, SS: How do you respond to an acquaintance going through the Cathy-hoopla? I'm trying to keep my vomiting in the office to minimum.

Gene Weingarten: An intervention?

It is madness.


Re: Kids named Dallas & Kennedy: Think in terms of "A Boy Named Sue". They will grow up strong, courageous and immune to petty insults lobbed at them at family gatherings.

Gene Weingarten: Well, why not just name them "Kickme" and "Givemeaswirlie"?


Wrong: You just posted my question about the Cathy picture... and you are incorrect about the male/female opinion divide. I am a man. Or at least I'm a boy forced uncomfortably into adulthood.

I just don't think she is attractive.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, but check out the next post. Dollars to donuts, that's a woman.


Lastpollquesti, ON: I will be shocked and dismayed if you confirm the preliminary poll results indicating that Ms. Guisewite is regarded as a babe. Vacant eyes, and she's trying too hard.

Gene Weingarten: This one.


Denver, Colo.: OK, I'm a woman and this whole pad/tampon discussion is grossing me out.

As for the weddings, if I ever do get married it will be on a beach in Mexico barefoot. I've been to too many weddings (I'm 33) to put my friends through another rubber chicken dinner.

Gene Weingarten: I'd marry you, too.


Stephan Pastis "Santa Rosa, CA": Dude, Cathy Guisewite's hot.

Gene Weingarten: THANK YOU. And this is from someone who has seen her recently, and upclose.


Anhedon, IA: Gene -- Bob Dole has also been ill recently; he sustained an injury in a fall and was hospitalized for 22 days. Is he a Deep Throat candidate? This would be oddly appropriate, given his Viagra commercials. Then again, maybe the fall story is a ruse, and he had Viagra results that lasted for more than four hours and had to seek medical attention (22 days -- wow!).

Gene Weingarten: Ow.

This is another male-female difference. Men hear 22 hours and think, OW. Women think, now that's interesting....


Laurel, Md.: "Dollars to donuts, that's a woman. "

Gene, that expression no longer means the long odds it used to.

Gene Weingarten: True, true. Good point. I think it also dates me.

Lord knows, no one else will.



RE: Super Bowl Commercials: Although the Ameriquest commercials were good, it's hard to top the CareerBuilder commercials. Monkeys in suits pretending to be executives. Now, that's funny!;

Gene Weingarten: Don't you think ONE of those commercials was enough, though? I also liked the pilot jumping out of the plane for Heineken.


Gene Weingarten: I think I like death as a vehicle for humor. Actually. Hm.


New York, N.Y.: I think Chatwoman feels that way about weddings because she is about to get remarried. She's done the wedding thing already. It's something you should only do once (the big wedding thing, not necessarily marriage).

washingtonpost.com: Not that I want to continue this conversation, but I've ALWAYS felt this way about big weddings. Hate going to them. Hate being in em. Hate em. Case closed.

Gene Weingarten: I will make an exception for weddings that have a giant barrel of raw oysters, and no one is watching who pigs out.

I went to one like that.

Oh, wait. It was a bar mitzvah. Never mind.


22 Hours?: That's a normal day in a 13 year old boy's life, isn't it?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, but there are brief three-to-four minute respites.


Death as a vehicle for humor: Of course you do -- why else the fascination with roo-roo? Death is your big fear, so you enjoy humor about it the most; it makes it bearable.

Gene Weingarten: You just summarized the "Hm."


Washington, D.C.: Cathy is hot, but in a hot, high school English teacher way.

Gene Weingarten: There is nothing whatsoever wrong with a hot high school English teacher kind of way. NOTHING.

And thank you all for an excellent, provocative chat. See you next week. And remember: I'm updating this sucker daily.


UPDATED 02.09.05

Lynchburg, Va.: First time caller, long time listener... My fiance had a serious attack of "air in the colon" this weekend. I put that in quotes because the Dr. told her he had never seen an x-ray showing "that much air in the colon." The doctor found nothing wrong despite severe pain by my fiance. He ordered a CT, again all is well. He called it a fluke and said it will probably get better. What if it doesn't, what else could this attack of the most awful gas (in quantity, not smell) be?

Gene Weingarten: I’m sorry, I would like to answer this question but I fear you haven’t given me enough information. Please supply your fiancee’s full name, and I will be delighted to respond. What a valentine’s day present! Think of how surprised she will be!


Hennypen, NY: You have to feel for the woman whose car was destroyed, though -- I'm sure you would not want to be hit by ICBMs either.

Gene Weingarten: ICBMs! Very nice.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Gene -- I'm submitting this to you because although it isn't that funny (haha), it is sort of funny (weird) but mainly because I think you're smart and might be able to help.

I read an article in The Post Magazine a couple of weeks ago regarding race. I thought the article was really interesting but one part really made me think. It talked about a study done that showed that even companies that wanted diversity tended to not call for interviews those candidates who had what might be considered "black" names.

So, I happen to have a first name that "sounds" black, I've been told. My middle name and last name are typical -- neither white nor black, etc.

I've been looking for a new job for a while now and am considering changing my cover letter and resume to read:

M. Ann Smith or M.A. Smith instead of putting in my first name.

But then people will think I go by Ann or that I'm pretentious with the initials or something. This is a true problem and while it might sound stupid, I would really like some advice.

Gene Weingarten: Boy, this is really an interesting question, and I’m not sure I should touch it. I’d like to hear what Colby King or Donna Britt or Courtland Milloy would say.

Having said that, and for what it’s worth: I was dismayed, but not entirely surprised, to hear that "black" names get discriminated against. It is very easy to say, the hell with those people -– be yourself! But the fact is, hiring is one big old highly competitive, merciless slaughterhouse, and you need to think strategically.

My initial thought would be to do exactly that icky thing you propose, before the first contact. You are trying to get to an interview stage, where they will see what they are getting, which sounds to me like a top-notch applicant. Then you can be yourself.


For Better or Worse...: FBOW married Irving when Ellie took over the store.

Gene Weingarten: I think that’s correct.


Oh Yeah?: Gene:
I will have you know that when I was 10 or so, my dad gave me an old watch. I took the back off, to see how it worked. Unfortunately, it exploded and little tiny watch parts flew everywhere. I have been cautious but no less curious, ever since. And, I am female.

Gene Weingarten: This is precisely how I began to develop an interest in fixing clocks. By not fixing one when I was a kid. I took it apart, and could not put it back together.


Breaking Stuff: Last year I gave an after-school "course" at my kids' elementary school. In it we took a computer apart down to nuts, bolts and springs. We broke boards, smashed chips, and disassembled motors. I called it "Computer Demolition" even though I knew I'd only get boys in the class. If I called it "What's Inside A Computer" I might have gotten a few girls, but probably not enough students to run the class.

Gene Weingarten: To get the girls, you would have had to call it: "Does a Computer Have a Heart?"

washingtonpost.com: This from a man who doesn't know how to launch a new browser window.


UPDATED 2.10.05

Waterford, Conn.: There is a road in Waterford named Spithead Road. Anyone know how such a name came to be? Was there a famous Admiral Spithead or Ambassdor Spithead or something like that? Who comes up with these names?

Gene Weingarten: I bet a spithead is some sort of thing on a ship. But boy, that sounds great. It sounds like sabotage on the part of a street-namer, doesn’t it?

washingtonpost.com: Spit -- A narrow point of land extending into a body of water.
Spithead -- A channel off southern England between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. It connects with the Solent on the west and was formerly used as a rendezvous for the British fleet.


Washington, D.C.: Just thought you may be interested in the following story. As a rugby player myself, I have been witness to strange (sometimes disturbing, mostly amusing) acts by other players - many involving nudity. But this...

Good to His Word..., (Reuters, Feb. 7)

GOOD TO HIS WORD, BAD TO HIS TESTICLES Rugby fan honors pledge to sever them if Wales beat England

Updated: 9:16 p.m. ET Feb. 7, 2005
LONDON - A Welsh rugby fan cut off his own testicles to celebrate Wales' beating England at rugby, the Daily Mirror reported Tuesday.

Geoff Huish, 26, was so convinced England would win Saturday's match he told fellow drinkers at a social club, "If Wales win I'll cut my balls off," the paper said.

Friends at the club in Caerphilly, south Wales, thought he was joking.

But after the game Huish went home, severed his testicles with a knife, and walked 200 meters back to the bar with the testicles to show the shocked drinkers what he had done.

Huish was taken to hospital where he remained in a seriously ill condition, the paper said. Police told the paper he had a history of mental problems.

Wales' 11-9 victory over England at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was their first home win in 12 years.

Gene Weingarten: I thought this was a joke, but apparently, it is not.


Potomac, Md.: I know this is probably a Hax question but I wanted another guy's perspective on this. There's a cute girl in one of my classes who I've been talking to, and I might ask her out except for one thing -- she apparently wrestled in high school. She's like 5-foot nothing and I'm sure I have like 100 pounds on her, but there's this thought in the back of my mind -- "she might be able to take my legs out." Should I be concerned that this girl can possibly kick my a**?

washingtonpost.com: Ask her out... as long as you're not, like, her teacher.

Gene Weingarten: When you get older, son, you will appreciate a five foot nothing woman who can kick you’re a--.


Rockville, Md.: This link is to an article about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’ use of a clever, though controversial, questionnaire to identify likely terrorists among rock and gravel professionals. The article contains this paragraph:

"Gary Bangs, chief of ATF's branch of explosives industry programs, says this is not the manner in which ATF should be using the questionnaires and checklists. Also, the questionnaires have recently been rewritten to exclude questions like "Have you ever taken explosives home?"

First, you have to admire the subtlety used by the ATF in pursuing their, um, quarry. Second, Gary BANGS!?

Is there something stronger than the word "aptonym" to describe this phenomenon? Are some people actually driven by their last names to embrace a certain career? What could we call this, maybe a TRAPT-onym?

Gene Weingarten: I like the idea of a traptonym. It could explain how the redoubtable Harry Beaver became a gynecologist, for example.


Thimb, LE: Gene,
The best aptonym I've ever seen appeared in a this Monday article.

It's buried on the third page (online). Where would you rate this on the Aptonym Achievement Scale?

Gene Weingarten: It’s good, but it’s only about a 6. (I’ll save you all the work: the owner of a hotel is named Monopoli.)


washingtonpost.com: Be sure to check next week's chat page for the new weekly illustration contest.


UPDATED 02.11.05

Shubidubiwa, WA: Last week, you mentioned that when different comic strips run similar ideas the artists may have been approached by a gag writer.

Obviously the creators of strips write gags, but that's the core part of what they created. It might just be me, but writing unsolicited gags, and then trying to sell them blind to totally different artists, seems to be a more odd way to make a living.

Who are these people? What do you need to be able to put Freelance Comic Strip Gag Writer on your resume? Is there a king of comic strip gag men (or women) out there?

If you're ever looking for an idea for an article, how about tracking one of these people down and giving us an insight into this market? The man who discovered the Armpit of America is surely the man to explore the (insert your body part) of Comedy.

Gene Weingarten: I happen to know one of these people well. In fact, you might, too. Mr. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge) is one of the best professional gagwriters around. He has written gags for several strips. And I believe he began doing this only after becoming the Greatest Style Invitational Entrant of the First Decade.

Part of the nature of that calling is stealth and secrecy. I am not sure what he can reveal, but hereby invite Chuck to addreess this chat, if he dares.


Washington, D.C.: My favorite aptonym: my allergist is Dr. Christopher Mesick.

Gene Weingarten: Excellent.


Liz: Are there awards for the best newspaper Web sites, and do you guys always win? You should

washingtonpost.com: There are. They're called the Eppys.

Gene Weingarten: Now you know.


Westfield, N.J.: Why has nobody pointed out the obvious -- that you are Deep Throat? Deep Throat ails, you hab a code? Coincidence? I think not.

Also, I have two (married to each other) journalist relatives who worked at the, um, Hiami Merald in the early 1980s. One of them worked in the Sunday Magazine (the other on the National Desk, I believe), and she says that on occasion, the astrology stuff would fail to make it over the wire on time, leaving the staff to sit around and think of horoscopes for the greater Mi -- um -- Hiami area for the following day. True? I can only imagine how many lives you influenced: "Buy something pretty!"

Gene Weingarten: This doesn't sound right. First, if this person worked at the magazine, he or she worked for me. Second, we didn't carry the horoscope.


Lynchburg, Va.: I have thought at great length about my fiancee, the air in her colon, and your request for her name. I have decided that the couch is very uncomfortable and I'm pretty sure I'd be on it for months if I revealed such a fact (even though her name is as generic as Jane Doe). I have asked for your honest medical opinion and I feel as though you're only trying to make light of a potential medical emergency. Sorry I'm not very funny.

That being said, how much is it worth?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, seriously, then. In my book I spoke to Michael D. Levitt, the world's leading expert on farting. The man spent his entire life studying intestinal gas. And his great regret was that he had never been able to find a connection between excessive flatulence and any serious illness. Okay?

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