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Chatological Humor* (Updated 4.22.05)

The Week After the 'All-Time Low'

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 19, 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.

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

He'll chat about anything.

This week's poll: Poll A: 39 and Younger | Poll B: 40 and Older.

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.

Note: No one submitted an illustration for this week, so we've gone back to the standard illustration. Oh well. -- Liz

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.

Went to the Nats game with Tom the Butcher last night; it's a pleasant 25-minute walk from my house, through a nice neighborhood. RFK is an excellent, intimate, comfortably grungy baseball park; spacious seating; equipped with the requisite peeling paint. We sat in the upper deck behind home, $15 nosebleed seats, and the view was terrific. I rate the experience a B, only because of the PA system WHICH BLARES CRAPPY MUSIC AND INANE ANNOUNCEMENTS NONSTOP AT INSANELY ELEVATED VOLUME. THEY HAVE TO AMP THAT DOWN OR NO ONE WILL COME BUT THE ALREADY DEAF AND I DON'T THINK THE GALLAUDET STUDENT BODY IS A LARGE ENOUGH FAN BASE. DO YOU HEAR ME, RFK STADIUM GUYS? NO? WELL TURN DOWN THE FRICKIN' VOLUME AND MAYBE YOU WILL.

Also, Screech the Eagle is a dork, even by large, cheerful mascot standards. He looks foetal, like some poultry zygote or something. You want to wipe your nose on him.

But I think the Nats will get it together in a bit. I'm in the tank for this team, already.

The intro today will be mostly devoted to comics. This was a week in which some of the strangest, most inexplicable things appeared on the comics pages.

We begin with this B.C., from Monday. Can anyone explain what Mr. Hart was thinking here? Does he know that the Mona Lisa is a head and shoulders shot? Does he care? Why does the fish care about Mona Lisa? Why does this description make him want to evolve? Why would a fisherman fish with such and object? Does any single clause in this cartoon relate to any other one? Can anyone help us out here?

Next: THIS Beetle Bailey. Okay, so, there appears to have been a general assault of some sort on Camp Swampy, led by an enormous person-squashing billboard. But whatever the nature of the assault, it included rocketry (see roof) and some sort of thermonuclear heat sufficient to melt and distort the metal structure of a tank, yet somehow kindly enough to leave flesh intact. Miss Buxley seems to be reenacting a portion of Picasso's "Guernica." The jeep appears to be so frightened it is peeing. What is this all about? Have the Walkers lost their minds? When they are out of ideas, is this how they show it? Anyone?

Now, Dennis the Menace. Anyone notice anything WRONG with this cartoon? I did, and so did a couple of chatters. I'll give you a second. (No, there are no hidden genitalia. Grow up.) Tum te tum... Okay, time's up. Mr. Wilson is not occupying third base. If anything, he is occupying first base, though he appears to be about 200 feet from home.

Next, we visit Sunday's That's Life. Okay, then! So, lessee, we have the devil delivering pizzas to angels in heaven! Cool! Uh, huh? Is the joke simply that hell is hot as an oven? Does this mean that there is no hot food in heaven? You go to heaven and you have to subsist on TEPID FOOD? Is pizza evil? Anyone? Even a clue????

Now I show you a detail shot, this single panel from a "Frazz" last week. I won't say anything more. Yes, it made sense in context, but does that excuse A SHOCKING, SUBLIMINAL SODOMY JOKE? (Just tweaking ol' goody-two-shoes Jef a little here.)

And lastly, in the Dept. of Unfortunate Timing Department, I call your attention to Mister Stephan Pastis's Saturday offering, a perfectly good comic, drawn months in advance, that happened to run RIGHT AFTER TIGER WON THE MASTERS. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Snarf, snort, wipe.

Okay, then.

Now to the strips that actually WORKED.

The CPOW is Saturday's Dilbert. Runners up are Saturday's Speed Bump, Sunday's Candorville and Doonesbury, and Saturday's Big Nate. I'm a sucker for a good puke joke.

Take the poll. Only enter in your designated age group (39 and Younger | 40 and Older). As always I will analyze results midway through.

Let's go.


Curiosity, USA: You've done male vs. female and straight vs. gay polls, any idea what the chatters' demographics are? Are we mostly female, mostly young, mostly straight, or are we a fairly mixed group?

Gene Weingarten: Today we will complete the puzzle, and I shall report.


Alexandria, Va.: Beyond the inanity of that stooge suing himself, I think the fact that it happened shows how shameless ambulance chasers are that they would still collect the legal equivalent of a finder's fee even if they aren't involved in a case. Based partly on this, I'm close to proving conclusively that Peter Angelos is a dick. If I did the math right, it appears to be inherent in certain physical models of the universe.

washingtonpost.com: Suit Yourself, (Post Magazine, April 17)

Gene Weingarten: I like your logic.

If I remember correctly from my days as an editor of the National Law Journal, fee-splitting is considered unethical, but there are a million quasi-legitimate ways around it.

The whole notion of class action suits can get pretty dicey. Some of them recover damages from people who really need help (I myself recovered $10,000 for leaky polystyrene plumbing in my house, by hooking onto a national class action suit) but in this case, the amount in question, for each person, was minuscule. In a class action suit contesting $60 fees, the only people who wind up making any serious money are the lawyers. You know?

As far as this particular case, I don't know much about Mr. Wyss's practice. He may be a highly ethical lawyer. He just got himself into a fairly embarrassing situation.


Effbee, ID: Hi Gene,

A couple 2001 photos of you turned up on the internet recently. Can we use one of them for your chat picture?

Gene Weingarten: Sure.


Washington, D.C.: I must say that your chat hit an all time low last week, with a reference so vulgar, I suspect your editors may have gone back and deleted it from last week's transcript. I think it is a shame that serious Live Online forums that provided valuable insights and discourse on topics like wine, classical music, national defense, and fitness were let go and this sophomoric "chat" remains. It's an embarrassment to your newspaper that I shall bring to the attention of the ombudsman.

Gene Weingarten: And I see you are back to pick up more filth!


Gene Weingarten: Important announcement: This chat has been exclusively informed that we have a pope.


Gene Weingarten: Take that, you naysayer. We do important journalism here.


Dennis the Menace: Mr. Wilson is FIRST base, not THIRD.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, did I write it wrong? Yes, he is first base.


You Don't Own Me: Well, you do, at least at this hour, most weeks, but... I had to miss last week, and since you gave such a shout out to Lesley Gore for her forward-looking anthem, I just wanted to point out that it also redeemed her soul from the consequences of having recorded the awful "Now It's Judy's Turn To Cry," the follow-up to "It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)".

In "Party," as everyone knows, the narrator is sad because her louse boyfriend, Johnny, humiliates her at her own birthday party by publicly dumping her for Judy. The sequel crows over the fact that she's gotten the cad back because, despite having humiliated her at her own birthday party to go with someone else, he still thinks he owns her. Sample lyric:

One night I saw them kissing at a party
So I kissed some other guy
Johnny jumped up and he hit him
'Cause he still loves me, that's why
And now it's Judy's turn to cry,
Judy's turn to cry
Judy's turn to cry-iy-iy-iy
'Cause Johnny's come back
To me

That song STILL makes my blood boil.

Gene Weingarten: Well said. Man, there were a lot of real crummy lyrics throughout rock, weren't there?

My boyfriend's back and you're gonna be in in trouble, hey-la, hey-la, my boyfriend's back ..

He's bee gona for such a long time (Hey la, hey la, my boyfriends back)
But new he's back and things'll be fine (Hey la, hey la, my boyfriend's back)
You're gonna be sorry you were ever born (Hey la, hey la, my boyfriend's back)
'Cause he's kinda big and he's awful strong (Hey la, hey la, my heyfriend's back)
Hey, he knows I wasn't cheatin' Now you're gonna get a beatin' ...

Actually, now that I think of it, those are probably GOOD lyrics.


Dorkville: Well, I feel like such a loser after everyone flagellated "In the year 2525" last week. It was a funny coincidence, too, since (before I read the chat) a cashier told me I owed $25.25, and we both immediately thought of the song. Anyway, I always liked the song for two reasons. One, the tune was catchy. Two, it reminded me of Isaac Asimov short stories and other Amazing Stories written in the 1930s and 40s (?) that speculated on how human bodies and behavior would change in the extreme distant future. I suppose this makes me a strange person. Does the fact that I am 32 and female make it even stranger?

Gene Weingarten: I have no problem with the kindergarten science-fiction zen in the song. I war with lyrics like these:

"In the year 4545 / Ain't gonna need your teeth, won't need your eyes / You won't find a thing to chew /
Nobody's gonna look at you..." Whatever that means.

But what really frosts my shorts and riles my bile is when the hook line suddenly breaks form and turns to "In the year 7510" so they can make some douchebag rhyme with "ten."

But that's just me.


Rockville, Md.: Who do you think the new pope is?

Gene Weingarten: Not sure, but I guarantee his name is not Wally.


Inthemid, DEL: Gene:

Minor problem -- I just turned 40 last week, which poll should I take?

Gene Weingarten: Duh. You're old, now.


Arlington, Va.: Any word on how Dana Milbank was able to get that word into Book World SIX times on Sunday? Very surprising that this hasn't caused too much of a stir.

washingtonpost.com: In Brief: On... Prevarication, (Post, April 17)

Gene Weingarten: Someone alert that previous guy to alert the ombudsman.


Nutmeg, Conn.: My state is about to pass a law that allows for same-sex civil unions. Included is a provision that defines marriage as only being between a man and a woman.

Should I be proud of my state for taking this step with the prodding of the courts -- the first such state to do so or embarrassed that the state is codifying a separate but equal status?

Gene Weingarten: It's a pretext, no? It's like a state in the 1950s passing a law saying that schools for black children must have sufficient pencils, dagnabbit! Oh, and as a codicil, blacks and whites can't attend the same schools.


College Park, Md.:

You are a master of the poll as used in conjunction with the chat.


washingtonpost.com: What an honor, given the competition.

Gene Weingarten: We can always count on ol' cold-water-bath Liz to bring things into prim perspective.


Dennis the Menace: If I was William of Ockham, I would go for the simple explanation -- the cartoon image was horizontally flipped before printing.

Gene Weingarten: I am guessing no. But it could be.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Gene, "That's Life" is showing how sneaky the devil is... trying to lure heaven dwellers out with the promise of a pizza. Lame, if you ask me.

Gene Weingarten: But he seems to be delivering it.


Nashville, Tenn.: Gene, I am a geek of a girl. I'm also an incurable proof-reader. Generally I have supreme confidence in my grammatical abilities, but I've recently become aware of a situation that keeps me awake nights, riddled with self-doubt.

Okay, not really, but this really bothers me, and I'd like your opinion on it. My understanding is that the phrases "much less" and "let alone" are to be used with something increasing in severity or tone, offsetting the phrase before. For example, "I'm afraid to swim in the deep end of the kiddie pool, much less go scuba diving." Similarly, "That dress she bought isn't worth $20, let alone $200."

Increasingly, though, I've seen the phrases switched, with the more severe (for lack of a better word) preceding "let alone" or "much less." This drives me crazy, especially as it seems to be in general use, even among otherwise intelligent, grammatically correct people. Have I been wrong on this all these years? I need a determination on this, and if you say I'm wrong I'll try very hard to stop getting annoyed when people use it the other way.

Gene Weingarten: I believe the usage you are giving is the only proper usages. And yes, I have heard people say things like: "I wouldn't skydive, let alone use a trampoline." It's just wrong. Which doesn't mean that, within a few years, dics won't be listing it as acceptable usage. Look at the egregious thing that happened with "imply" and "infer," which raises, but does not beg the question, what about "begging the question?"


Abby Normal: In the Comic Picks of the Week contest, I think Tom Toles' entry for April 15 deserves some special recognition, because of its "Young Frankenstein" reference.

washingtonpost.com: Toles, (April 15)

Gene Weingarten: It was great, wasn't it? He totally got Marty Feldman's Eyegore in a few brushstrokes.

Gene Weingarten: Chatwoman points out, for those who are interested, that Marty Feldman once starred in "Barnaby Spoot and the Exploding Whoopee Cushion."


Washington, D.C.: I'd clicked on the link to "Get Fuzzy" in your chat last week, and I had some other applications open on my computer too. When I glanced down at the status bar, one of the little boxes said, "Get F..."

Just thought you'd like to know.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Bibliotek, Va.: Got this in my dilbert newsletter recently, and thought, "Wow, its a combo of hypochondria and comics!" Here is Weingarten two favorite topics in one -- I must forward this.

Alert readers have noticed that Dilbert looks different lately, almost as if someone else is drawing it. Well, it's still me, but here's what's happening: I lost the use of my right hand for drawing, thanks to overuse. Technically, it's called a focal dystonia. It's essentially a brain-mapping problem caused by overusing the hand. The hand is structurally healthy and perfectly fine for every possible use EXCEPT drawing. It's very specific. My brain essentially removed from me the ability to do the thing that was hurting it.

One way I can confirm that it's a brain issue is that when I try to draw with my LEFT hand, my RIGHT hand spasms immediately. Some part of my brain doesn't want me drawing because that's what caused all the discomfort.

For a few weeks I worked left-handed. I'm not quite ambidextrous, but if I work slowly, it looks about the same. Some of the lefty ones have a "L.H." on them to tip you off.

Left-hand drawing was too slow, so I looked for, and found, a technical solution. Wacom has a product that allows you to draw directly onto a special flat computer screen that tilts and turns just like paper on a drawing board. It's called the Cintiq 21UX, and I've been using it for the past several weeks, with much success. It will take a while for my characters to look the same as old, but I'm closing in on it.

The reason I can draw on the computer, but not on paper, is because now I work at a different scale (larger), and the feel of the stylus on the screen is so different from pen-on-paper that my brain doesn't think I'm drawing, so it doesn't trigger the hand spasms.

Brains are funny.

Gene Weingarten: That's funny. I thought he couldn't draw BEFORE.

Yeah, I've seen this. It is really intriguing.


Danbury, Conn.: If no one submits a new drawing of Gene, why not leave up the most recently submitted? This might have the effect of inspiring more drawings -- "the last one was left up for three weeks, if I submit one now thousands of people may see my artwork and read my name for a month."

Gene Weingarten: I'll think about it.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, now this is scary. I did not write the above message, Lizzie did. But she apparently has the ability to append my name to her answers, by mistake or otherwise. This means you can never again be sure whether you are hearing from me or her. So be suspicious if, for example, at some point in the future, I start waxing poetic about the vast talents of Bill Murray, or express sexual longing for Jake Gyllenhaal.


Well I like you: And your vulgar, sophmoric chat. Nothing against wine reviews and literary discourse, but they are pretty BORING.
I'll take poop and fart jokes over that stuff any day.
Three cheers for Gene, the king of bad taste.

By the way naysayer, Shakespeare loved vulgar humor. You must not have read him.

Gene Weingarten: It is true: His sonnets and plays are filled with entendre and other country matters.


Santa Rosa, Calif.: So Tiger goes two years without winning a major. He then opens this Masters with a crappy first two days of golf. My strip runs on the third day of the Masters (and runs in the Augusa Chronicle, no less). And what happens? Tiger turns it around and wins the whole damn thing.

Is there any doubt I'm responsible for his victory?

Gene Weingarten: Nice try, Pastis. NICE TRY, BAD-TIMING-BOY.


Achenb, LA: Gene,

I'm Achenblog's reader. That's me. Right here. The One. I think some people may want to join me soon, though. He's getting better. He even seemed to trick you into contributing content last week through some creative instant messaging. Don't let him do that again without paying the royalties!

Anyhoo, did you notice today that he opened himself to a lifetime of ridicule and random boombox ambushes with the following statement?

"...ever since that night I've been searching for my song and strangely enough I keep coming back to Get Down Tonight, the masterpiece of KC and the Sunshine Band..."


Now Gene, can we trust you, our man at the magazine, to yell out "do a little dance! make a little love!" whenever Achenbach makes a suggestion?

Gene Weingarten: Joel, please stop trying to worm your way into this chat. I will link to your blog when I feel like linking to it.


New Pope City: I hope it's Ratzinger, so he can take the name Pope Adolf I.



Oh, come on Ge, NE: That's Life: Pizza is a forbidden food. It is horrible for you. Thus, one can only get it in Heaven by ordering from Hell. Not real funny, but not a hard concept. Sometimes you look for more than there is in comics. Sometimes they are just silly.

washingtonpost.com: Pizza is not horrible for you -- in fact, it can be pretty good for you and contain all four major food groups.

Gene Weingarten: Precisely. That joke would have worked if he were delivering Twinkies or something. Maybe.


Early poll results: Ack! I am conservative and voted for Bush, but I can't BELIEVE people voted to not have free press if "family values" were at risk. Ack! Ack! As Bill the Cat would say. Oh man, I just can't get my mind around that one...

Just a question -- have there been times when newspapers, knowing something related to national defense, willingly withheld publication (temporarily)?

Gene Weingarten: Definitely, but not as often as some people think. Howard Simons (Managing Editor of the Washpost during Watergate) told me that during his tenure (about ten years, I think) he withheld something for national security reasons, but only twice. He didn't tell me what.

The most famous case of this involved the Bay of Pigs, where the New York Times and a couple of other papers were persuaded by Kennedy not to reveal what they knew of the invasion plans. Kennedy later admitted he wished they had published, because that might have derailed the fiasco before it began.

A lot of papers knew about D-Day. Date and place. No one published.


Anonymous: OK, so if you're longing for Maggie Gyllenhall, we know it's Gene. So, the next time Liz is bad, have you thought about spanking her like Maggie in "Secretary?"

washingtonpost.com: Thank god we're on different sides of the Potomac.

Gene Weingarten: I appreciated Maggie Gyllenhaal for her fine acting in Secretary. Ms. Liz's affection for her brother is FAR more tawdry.

By the way, ahem, I HAPPEN TO KNOW PERSONALLY Maggie and Jake's uncle, Anders.


Washington, D.C.: Wait, how did that pearl-clutching ombudsman groupie even understand the vulgar reference? I believe (s)he's referring to the Snoop Dogg photo, but the term you quoted -- "shocker" -- isn't obviously vulgar unless one (a) already knows what it means, or (b) slaveringly pores through the canon trying to find out what it means. And you know who seeks out vulgar references? Perverts.

Gene Weingarten: I agree. I formally request that that poster leave this chat immediately. He is fouling us all with his filthy mind.


Santa Rosa, Calif.: Alright, that does it, Gene. You're going into the strip.

Stealing a page from Conan O'Brien, I'm introducing a new character: "Weingarten, the Masturbating Bear."

Gene Weingarten: Okay, now, Pastis, let's not alarm that prude out there.


Hope for the future: I thought you might find my friend's senior thesis project pretty cool.

In addition to restoring an old clock, she did research that included reading passages like this: "The connections between suspension and cock, suspension and rod, rod and crutch, rod and pendulum should be firm. In the case of the fit of the suspension in the suspension cock and the rod in the crutch there should be easy movement, but not looseness, between the two parts... A significant twist to the bob will give a sideways thrust to the pendulum and cause the pendulum to weave about instead of beating in a single plane."

Clockmaking: unexpectedly dirty.

washingtonpost.com: I knew there had to be more to Gene's affinity for clocks.

Gene Weingarten: Sadly, I understand the paragraph and find nothing remotely funny about it.


Behind the 8ba, AL: When do we learn about your "secret mission" to Alaska? Was your purpose to find a team for the Yankees since George Steinbrenner can't for love or money?

Gene Weingarten: May 1.


Madison, Wis.: Grammar Question:
When using the plural form of "ho," is hos or ho's correct. The former accepts that "ho" is a proper word. The latter supposes that ho is a contraction.

This question is of course theoretical as I would never use this awful, disrespectful, sexist word.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I will gleefully request that Pat the Perfect answer this. My guess is that hos is correct, because otherwise how would you distinguish the plural of ho from the possessive, as in "Who has the ho's corsage"?


Northern Virginia: I think I can help with the B.C. comic strip. He was using the "a'lure'" of a picture of a well known woman. I didn't matter if the picture was only head and shoulders and who's to say she's not wearing hot pants anyway. The the fish that wanted to evolve so he can be on land to see other strange and aluring sites.

Gene Weingarten: Yech.


Arlington, Va.: It's hard to know precisely where to come down on your free-press family values question. What if one doesn't want to see live reproductive acts, or actual abortion procedures, on afternoon broadcast TV? Is that a restriction on the basis of family values? Does an absolutist position mean that one is okay with putting anything in the newspaper or broadcast TV?

Gene Weingarten: I would say an absolutist position means that one would not want the GOVERNMENT to regulate these things, no matter how "bad" they got. That one would trust the marketplace of ideas to self-regulate. For what it is worth, that is my position.

I guarantee you in 1962 most Americans, hearing a Lenny Bruce routine, would have preferred that the government prosecute him for profanity. Which, of course, they did. Because they had The Voice of the People behind them.


No way: Anders G. the newspaper guy is related to Maggie and Jake? I bet he just says that so his minions think he's cool and not a Dockers-wearing newsgeek.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, he is their uncle. Also really good looking, damn him all to hell.


Dennis The Menace: If the Dennis cartoon was horizontally flipped that would mean Ketcham intended all of the kids to be southpaws, highly unlikely....

Gene Weingarten: Good point!


Who to Bla, ME?: What is the deal with that little article about the National's mascot "Screech?" I have to say that for a section known for soliciting excellent humor, and being able to recognize said humor, this was a pretty lame effort. Please tell me that nobody presently or previously associated with the SI had anything to do with it.

washingtonpost.com: As Mascots Go, A Definite Featherweight, (Post, April 19)

Gene Weingarten: I believe I can safely assure you of that.


And if there are lots of them: Who has the hos' corsages?

washingtonpost.com: Really, though, who would give a ho a corsage?

Gene Weingarten: Why, I just might. What do you have against hos?


Nobody but you will care...: In yesterday's "Frazz," Burke is wearing a shirt with an interlocking UO. The symbol for the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS!) Additionally, you'll recall a little while back "Get Fuzzy" had a story arc dealing with the mascot of Oregon State University, a Beaver. Supposedly, during the infamous Beaver Period, Conley had a friend visiting from the University of Oregon and was making fun of the U of O's mascot, only problem is he screwed up the mascots and used OSU's.

So my question is, do you think Mallett's Monday strip is a subtle reminder to Conley of his mistake? That would be FANTASTIC!

My other question is, do you think I spent way to much time on this considering I'm a lawyer that bills at several hundred dollars per hour?

washingtonpost.com: Frazz, (April 18)

Gene Weingarten: I think you should sue yourself.


Washington, D.C.: So, Yahoo! has this new feature where you can get up to three daily comics on your personalized page, out of a list of comics which they have a deal with.

For me, "Doonesbury" and "Boondocks" are automatic picks; I love those. But what about number three? I picked "Non Sequitur" just for the heck of it, but it's not making me laugh. If I take Yahoo's list and remove the comics that I know are really atrocious ("Garfield", "Cathy", "BC", "Wizard of Id", etc.) then I can pick only one off of this list:

Andy Capp
Ballard Street
Close to Home
For Better or For Worse
In the Bleachers
Jane's World
Lost Sheep
One Big Happy
Prickly City
The Quigmans
Speed Bump
Tank McNamara
Willy 'n Ethel

I've seen "Foxtrot", and it's okay, I guess, but I haven't read any of the others. Which one would you choose? Or should I stick with Non Sequitur? WWGD?

Gene Weingarten: Speed Bump.

Then Sequitur, then Willy n Ethel. This is not a great list.


Pat the Perfect, ME: Here's the link to the online clock you spoke of last week:

Industorious Clock

Gene Weingarten: Thank you, 'tricia. I love this site. I predict, in the year 2525, that this will be considered fine art from the early Web era.


YukY, UK: Hi Gene (and Liz) -- loved last week's column about your latest round of corporate phone calls. Have you (or has Tom the Butcher) ever worried about the possibility that you'll set off a wave of copycat crimes, and that corporate PR folks will refuse to talk to you as a result?

BTW, I felt compelled to call my significant other, who lives in Norfolk, to read said column to her. "That is just... so... wrong," she said, in a deeply admiring tone.

P.S. I'm a woman. Just in case you wondered.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Hi, Finance!, (Post Magazine, April 10)

Gene Weingarten: I wasn't wondering, but thanks for sharing.

I love doing those 800-number columns, both because they are easy and quick, and because they usually come out pretty well. I don't think there is much danger of people refusing to answer because (here is the fiendish beauty of it) THEY HAVE TO BE POLITE. It is their job. These calls are recorded and they are reprimanded if they are snippy to customers. So they must assume you are serious, on the offchance that you are.

I have to say that in most cases, these people do not get angry or seem upset. It is more fun than they usually have.


Parodyla, ND: The Waitresses used to do a parody of My Boyfriend's Back that started

My boyfriend's dead, 'cause I hit him with a shovel
Hey la, hey la, my boyfriend's dead

I nearly wet myself laughing at the first concert I heard them play it. (It was at the Wax Museum, which should tell you which poll I filled out.)

Gene Weingarten: I like that.


Engineering Supergeni, US: You're overlooking the obvious: Perhaps Tiger saw the strip and gave his wife to Pastis.

Gene Weingarten: Stephan? You care to comment?


StarTribu, NE: We're not impressed. Everybody in print journalism knows Jake and Maggie's uncle Anders. My mother wrote him a recommendation that was key in getting him his current job.

This is like a Senate Staffer saying they know Trent Lott. Except without the "ick" factor.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I once edited a story by him. Now he could afford to buy me a chalet in Zurich.


Pat the Perfect, ME: "Hos" is indeed the plural of "ho." You could make the case that you could spell the singular "ho' ," since you're covering for missing letters, and then feel okay, using "ho's" for the plural -- but wouldn't you then also need an apostrophe BEFORE the H?

The reason you're having a problem with "hos" is that we don't usually use a long O in the middle of a one-syllable word, and so it's hard to read ... hey, has anyone called the city "Hos Angeles"? Let's.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks, Pat.

I like your sophisticated use of the apostrophe in your last wordsentence. That's why you are and forever will be, Pthep.


RE: Nutmeg, Conn.: Gene, first, love your columns and chats. And, not meaning to be prickly, but I hate it when people use race in comparison to homosexuality. IT'S NOT THE SAME THING! I can't choose not to be black. Marriage is a choice. Having sex, with whomever is a choice. We struggled to be recognized as humans, with basic, equal, human rights. I understand and sympathize with what they are trying to achieve, but it's not comparable.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Thank you, but I disagree. I don't think one's sexual orientation is a choice. I think a gay person is born gay just as you were born black, and I was born white. I think there is no stigma to any of it, or at least there should not be.


Iowa: Do you want a chalet in Zurich? Would that be your second or third home?

Gene Weingarten: Second would probably be a loft in Brooklyn Heights. Then, an apartment in Madrid. Then, maybe, Zurich. Or London.


Telemarketers: Do you even torment telemarketers the same way you torment 800 numbers? They should be trained to be polite as well. Although I once had a telemarketer call me a dips--- when I told him I did not, in fact, own a copier. Which is, by the way, true. He thought I had already hung up at that point. I then said, "What? What did you say?"

To give him credit, he repeated exactly what he had said.

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely. I wrote a story about this years ago. We are now going to test Liz's skills. Me, telemarketers, years ago, the word "bus." and "foot." Go.


Re: Beetle Bailey...: Could it be a subtle statement against the Iraqi war?

I've noticed many comics that had previously been non-political making subtle statements against the Iraqi war.

Gene Weingarten: As in reconstructing Iraq? I don't see it. If so, it is waaaay too subtle.


Atlanta, Ga.: I have a friend who plans to attend a Civil War re-enactment this weekend dressed as a Klingon. Is this a funny idea?

Gene Weingarten: Yes!


Arlington, Va.: I thought it might amuse you that the animal in this picture is described as having been "hand-reared." Certainly, the expression on its face is the one I'd have if someone were to hand-rear me.

Gene Weingarten: Nice.


Gene Weingarten: OMIGOD ITS RATZINGER!!!


Black vs. Gay: I think what this poster was trying to convey is that you are immediately perceived and judged accordingly because anyone who looks at you can see you are black. If you're gay, you don't necessarily get that knee-jerk judgment.

Gene Weingarten: But that's not what he/she said.


Gene Weingarten: Not Adolf, though. Benedict XVI.


The results are in: It's Ratzinger.

And that noise you hear is liberal Catholics dropping dead in their tracks.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, man.


Washington, D.C.: About a month ago I received an email forward. It was a satirical letter to the US of A written by one of the Monty Python guys, saying that Britain was going to take back control of the country seeing as how we've obviously lost the ability to govern outselves. It was very funny, but I think it deserves a response, and I think that you and/or Dave Barry should write a reply.

Gene Weingarten: It was not written by one of the Montys. That was a lie. It was very funny, but six years old.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll. The surprise is no surprise. Yikes. All of us, young and old, geezers and whippersnappers, are entirely set in our politics, more or less sexually sane, etc. I expected far more certitude from the kids.

Anyone else have more elaborate analysis? Am I missing important blips?

It does say that about twice as many youngsters read this chat as oldsters. I like that. Rounds out the demographics. We are about 55 percent women, about 10 percent gay of both sexes, and about 78 percent liberal.


Spun, KY: When I heard his name on the radio, I thought they said "Rap Singer". Either they were mumbling or my hearing is going.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.


Achenb, LA: C'mon Gene, you know I'm no Joel Achenbach. For one, Achen's got so much talent he wouldn't...wait..hold on...what the?!;


Sorry, something just came over me.

Gene Weingarten: Mm-hmm.


Iowa: As a cradle Catholic, I can tell you that I am appalled at the selection of Ratzinger. It's like choosing Dick Cheney to head my church.

Gene Weingarten: This is the guy who thinks feminism is a curse on humanity. Yikes. Yoiks. Wow.


Gene Weingarten: I have been reliably informed that Lizzie has found the telemarketer story, and will append it to the end of the chat.


Left Coast, Calif.: Gene,

I was thinking about the winning entry in your Schiavo, Cochran, Perdue, Pope contest and was struck by how heavily dependent the humor in it was on the reader being a regular to your chat. Without knowing the history of the Aristocrat joke, this entry would not make sense.

This got me thinking about whether all humor is context dependent, or if there is some that is universal? The only thing that I could think of that may be universal is bodily function humor...

Your thoughts?

Gene Weingarten: All humor is context dependent on the experience of living as a human. (Or as an ape, if you are talking about ape humor, etc.)


Re: Re: Nutmeg, Conn: Sexual orientation is much more equivalent to religion than race. It is not outwardly apparent in most cases, unless they make an effort to broadcast it by wearing emblems or symbols that identify them as part of a particular group. It is largely defined in others by behavior, but for themselves people feel it is part of their identity and that they have no choice about their religion/orientation. They could technically choose to act differently, but that alone would not reflect a true change in their identity.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I understand that point. Point taken, as they say.


Buzzard Point, DC: The election of Pope Benedict makes my heart hurt. Now, it seems very apparent that he had been running things for the last few years and had been "Weekend a Bernies"-ing JP II around for a while...


Gene Weingarten: Ew. That is a disturbing thought.


Severna Park, Md.: re B.C. -- I think it is a slap at people who read "The Da Vinci Code" and believe it and also believe in evolution.

Gene Weingarten: You know, you might be onto something. Something insane, but something nevertheless.


Female Cartoon Celebrity: Bambi. Granted, I don't remember anything from the Disney movie so for all he sprouted horns. But have you ever seen a male exotic dancer named Bambi?

I rest my case.

Gene Weingarten: Bambi the deer was male. He was a buck. This is very clear. It is just one of those names appropriated by women, like Evelyn and Toby.


Oy Vey, Ratzinger: Not only does Ratzinger think that the pedophilia scandal was nothing but a planned campaign against the Church, he also sent a letter to Bishops world-wide condemning Turkey's admission to the EU because Europe was essentially a Christian continent. And these are just the snippets on The Post's Web site.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah.


For the record: I really miss these chats when you are off on strange adventures. It is like hanging out and talking with a bunch of people you never would say two words to otherwise, yet is always an interesting time.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, I have a feeling that if we got the entire chat audience into a room, we'd like each other a lot. Except maybe for Wanda Mae Prudheim, who weighed in earlier.

Okay, thank you all. Excellent, provocative discussion. I hope all you Roman Catholics out there will be permitted to tune in next week, same time.


washingtonpost.com: The Slow, Happy Death of a Salesman
Post Magazine, Aug. 23, 1998

When telemarketers phoned at dinnertime, I used to sputter and fulminate and hang up on them. No more.

I have adopted a new strategy, a form of guerrilla engagement. In telemarketing, time is money. If you waste their time, you pick their pockets.

My first counterstrike came a few months ago during yet another a call from a commodities futures outfit in New York. The guy sounded as though he had a tootpick in his mouf. He wanted to know my financial status, and suddenly I saw my opening.

I told him that I had $208,000 in discretionary savings, but was unlikely to invest it over the phone unless I was convinced it was a very good opportunity, and I am no pushover, on account of I have been swindled in the past to the tune of $182,000, so I have wised up a lot since then -- though I sure wouldn't mind making a quick buck, yessirree Bob. (This is the equivalent of taking a paring knife, disemboweling yourself and waving your bloody spleen in front of a starving Rottweiler.)

In short, at this point, I owned him. I could keep him on the phone as long as I wished. So we discussed investment strategies. We discussed women. He likes big butts. Me, I like slim shoulders. To keep his interest, every so often I waved the spleen, telling him I had my checkbook out, but preferred to wire funds directly, would that be okay with him?

Fifteen minutes went by. And then I mentioned that I was interested only in certain commodities.
We represent many commodities, he said, smoothly.
Do you represent Cheez Doodles?
Um, he said.

I will invest only in Cheez Doodle futures, I said. Plus, you gotta send me a free TV, one of them big ones with with on-screen programming and Surround Sound.

That New York outfit used to call me once a month or so. Not lately.

You might ask: Isn't this a gigantic waste of my time? Well, no. This is quality time, family entertainment. I tend to have these conversations with everyone listening and chortling and offering suggestions. It's the new electronic hearth.

Not long ago a woman called offering us a free three-day vacation at a Massachusetts resort. Only it turns out it is not remotely free. I would have to pay the plane fare, and stay the three days at my own expense -- but I'd get these "valuable bonus coupons."

So I say that sounds like a splendid deal, only I have a family of 12 so we would need to rent four rooms, would that be a problem?

It is not a problem at all! So I tell her about my extended family, including Great Aunt Irene, who sometimes thinks she is Queen Margarethe of the Netherlands, and Becky, the little one, who has postnasal drip and keeps going schnurf schnurf schnurf like one of those lawn sprinklers but we love her anyway, despite the projectile vomiting.

Ha ha, the telemarketer says, it sounds like you have a colorful family! But back to this offer . . .

But I am off on a discussion of past vacations, including the time Rebecca Louise, that's my wife, actually my second wife, but let's not get into my first marriage, which blew up like a pipe bomb with thumbtacks...

When would you like to go, the telemarketer breaks in at last, her voice getting a bit of an edge.
Anytime, I say, but I'd like to request one small change in the accommodations.
Sure, she says.
Instead of Massachusetts, we'd prefer Zurich.
She didn't call back.

Most recently, I got a call from someone named Brian who wanted to know how I was doing today Mr. Weenbarter. Brian was reading from a script I could tell because he never slowed up or broke cadence and sometimes he actually read aloud inappropriate things pause for answer. Brian represented some Visa-card-related business wanting me to buy an insurance policy for accidents that occur in public places, such as buses or post offices. Apparently people are losing money left and right because you can't sue governments.

I said I found this very attractive, inasmuch as I ride public conveyances very often on my shopping trips to spend a great deal of money on my Visa card. Brian said very good Mr. or Mrs. Weenbarger and would you like to take advantage of our convenient schedule in which your premiums are automatically deducted from your credit card ask for name exactly as it appears on card expiration date thank you. So I said sure, but first I launched into a discussion of the evils of government in general, including how they'd tax your tuchus if they thought they could squeeze a few bucks out of it.

And then, right before I was going to authorize the insurance, I said, Hey, you know how on buses there are those stairwells down in the back, near the rear door?

Sure, he said.

Well, I said, I could sort of scootch my body down there, so no one could see me, and push my foot out between the rubber flanges and let it drag along the ground as the bus is moving, so my foot is ground down to the nub, sort of like if you held a pencil eraser against a grindstone. And then I could file a claim and Visa could pay me $770,000.

I heard papers shuffling. Brian could find nothing in there to deal with this.

Excuse me, he says.

Hey, I say, it's only a foot. And $770,000 isn't exactly chump change.

But that would be illegal, he says.

Sure, I say. But you wouldn't rat me out, would you, Brian? As close as we are?

Brian hasn't called back.


UPDATED 04.20.05

Shi, Va.: Once again the bureacratic minions in Richmond attempt the insert themselves into the most intimate aspects of marital relations. Look at Line 16-B of the Form 760 (Indvidual Income Tax Return): It directs you to "Enter Spouse's VAGI." That's pretty unwarranted, don't you think? What if your spouse has a headache? What if your spouse hasn't let you enter her VAGI since that unfortunate Christmas party where she caught you entering the neighbor lady's VAGI? Oh, there's something else in the form about Virgina Adjusted Gross Income, but I am so upset by this VAGI thing that, frankly, I can't focus on taxes right now.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahahahahaha.


Annandale Va.: Gene,
I asked this last week, and I'm really looking for the best option for the best comic effect....

I have a photo in my office of four women. No one's noticed that one of the women is me, in drag (it was a costume situation, but the other costumes are not as elaborate). Should I just keep quiet and keep the joke to myself, or ask someone if any of them look familiar, or say, "don't you realize the woman on the left is ME?" or something else.

I know I'm walking a fine line between Great Joke and Public Humiliation. I'd like to fall on the joke side of the line.

Gene Weingarten: You should ask people if they find any of the women hot.


Classacti, ON: What do you think would happen with regard to the incidence of corporate corruption and unsafe products in this country if there were no class action attorneys (i.e. government agencies alone prosecuted such unlawful conduct)? Do you think it would go up? Down? A little? A lot?

It's not just about a million people making $11 dollars each.

Gene Weingarten: I SAID I was not against class-action suits. Class-action suits have redressed horrendous wrongs, and kept business on their toes. There are, however, some class-action suits that seem to benefit the lawyers way more than the clients. And I think you know that.


Maryland: If you could live anywhere, would D.C. still be where you'd choose to live?

Gene Weingarten: "Anywhere" is a tall order.

I really like Washington. Right now I am not sure there is another part of the country I'd rather be in. The ground zero element is a little scary, but I am a risk-taker by nature.

Madrid, maybe. I loved it for the two days I was there. I no longer long to live in New York as numero uno.


UPDATED 04.21.05

Bad lyrics: Remember these from the 1960s by Gene McDaniel? I heard this song (?) recently and it was like a train wreck. It was such a bad song, but I couldn't bring myself to change the station.

He took a hundred pounds of clay
And they He said "Hey, listen"
"I'm gonna fix this-a world today"
"Because I know what's missin' "
Then He rolled his big sleeves up
And a brand-new world began
He created a woman and-a lots of lovin' for a man
Whoa-oh-oh, yes he did

With just a hundred pounds of clay
He made my life worth livin'
And I will thank Him every day
For every kiss you're givin'

And I'll thank Him every night
For the arms that are holdin' me tight
And He did it all with just a hundred pounds of clay
Yes he did, whoa-oh, yes He did

Now can'tcha just see Him a-walkin' 'round and 'round
Pickin' the clay uppa off the ground?
Doin' just what He should do
To make a livin' dream like you

He rolled His big sleeves up
And a brand-new world began
He created a woman and-a lots of lovin' for a man
Whoa-oh-oh, yes he did
With just a hundred pounds of clay

People, let me tall ya what He did
With just a hundred pounds of clay

Gene Weingarten: OK, I'm laughin' here. I had almost forgotten this one.


New York, N.Y.: Right -- having sex is a choice. So if you want to marry or have sex with someone of the same sex, you should just, what, instead choose to be abstinent for life?

That's like saying, "Well, being educated is a choice. So if you choose not to go to an all-black school, you could just... not be educated." (That whole Brown vs. Board of Ed thing.)

Or, taking the bus is a choice. So instead of sitting in the back, you could choose to just... walk.

Or, drinking water is a choice. So instead of using the colored fountain, you could just... buy a Coke.

Sigh. Inequality is inequality, folks.

Gene Weingarten: Couldn't have said it better.


St. Paul Minn.: Gene, did you catch the "La Cucaracha" comic for Saturday, April 16? The topic is the school shootings on the Red Lake reservation in Minnesota. The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran the strip and it caused enough of a reaction to make the evening’s TV news.

I know I’ve been reading your chats too regularly because my first reaction was that the strip’s first sin was failing to be funny. Is it just me, or was it just lame, lame, lame?

Even if it were not so lame, is it not an example of those time & distance boundaries for when a tragedy can become the topic of a joke? Straighten me out here, please; I was born without a sense of humor and depend on you for all such guidance.

Gene Weingarten: Time and distance applies, but it is all trumped by Rule One. This is lame. Not funny. Not pithy. It is nothing but bad. Liz, can we link to it?

Gene Weingarten: La Cucaracha, (April 16)


Pat the Perfect, ME: Ooh, I think the Dennis panel MIGHT be flopped. Note that Dennis's hair is parted on the left; I've just Googled a bunch of images that show it parted on the right.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting. But that would mean that both Gina and Dennis are lefties.


Gene Weingarten: Emergency update to the update: Several alert chatters have found beaucoup evidence that Dennis's hair-part changes day to day. The explanation above does not wash.


UPDATED 04.22.05

New York, N.Y.: You would prefer Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan?

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely. Brooklyn Heights gives you everything the best neighborhood in Manhattan gives you, except for the one thing even a good neighborhood in Manhattan can't give you: A view of Manhattan.


Salt Lake City, Utah: So, I've been reading (and hugely enjoying) "I'm With Stupid" and I have a question about how the writing process worked. Was your interaction with Gina mostly recorded/transcribed telephone conversation? At first I thought mostly e-mail and instant messaging -- but then there are those times you brought in third parties. (Speaking of... you SO cheated in the car challenge!) Anyway, in the book, you book come out good! Thanks for the laughs.

Gene Weingarten: I did not cheat. I merely exhibited extreme unwomanly competitiveness.

Most of the book, Gina and I did on the phone. Some was through e-mails. I hope you realize that these conversations (and our columns) were not verbatim transcripts. Man, if it had been that easy.

The truth is, Gina and I came up with some of each others' best lines. We learned to think like each other. This would be a typical experience on the phone.

Me: So what do you think of blah-blah-blah.

Gina: I think such and such about it.


Gina: What?

Me: Gina would not say that. Gina would say yah-de-dah.

Gina: Okay, let's go with that.


Bethesda, Md.: I'm a lawyer. A lot of my friends are lawyers. We worked hard and paid good money for a diploma, and now try (often against the odds) to do good work for real people.

So what's so funny about that?

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely nothing. I don't hate lawyers. My wife is a lawyer. Mary Ann the Lawyer is a lawyer. I love them both. My lawyer is a lawyer. But this is humor. Humor is a harsh mistress, as it were.


College Park, Md.: The Mona Lisa has no legs, and there is no such thing as evolution.

Gene Weingarten: Again, this makes a sort of twisted, Johnny-Hartlike sense. I am impressed.


In the Deli: Corned beef sandwich: Mustard or mayo?

Gene Weingarten: MAYO????

Why not peanut butter? Gad. Is there anyone else out there who would consider putting mayo on corned beef?


Fairfax, Va.: Regarding the "B.C." strip, of course it is not supposed to make any sense. They are FISH, for God's sake. When was the last time fish ever said anything that made sense? Mine never do.

Gene Weingarten: This is an excellent point. Thank you.


McLean, Va.: So how long before we get our first "Eggs Benedict" jokes about the new pope?

Gene Weingarten: I would say the very first time the Pope issues some edict related to stem cell research. Which could be any day now.

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