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Chatological Humor* (Updated 2.18.05)

His Belly Button is the Real Thing

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 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 (Liz Kelly - washingtonpost.com)

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

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

I hope you all read Hank Stuever's excellent piece last week about the wedding of Cathy and Irving. Hank astutely picked up on one of our chatter's suggestions -- that the phrase "Marrying Irving" enter the lexicon; specifically, that it be the comics-page equivalent of "Jumping the Shark," which refers to the moment that you know a sitcom has begun an unstoppable slide downward, usually after forcing its characters to do something Wrong in a desperate plea for attention.

(For posterity, and proper lexicographical historiana, we disclose here that the chatter who came up with the "Marrying Irving" metaphor was Ms. Jennifer Dure.)

Anyway, I have spent the past week thinking about Marrying Irvings, and invite your nominations today for when various strips have done the deed.

I decided I would begin with the toughest task of all. I knew that "B.C." Married Irving the very first time Johnny Hart decided that he could no longer make jokes entirely about cavemen, and placed his first anachronism in the strip. That was the easy part. But when did that occur?

As it happens, I have in my basement nearly the entire B.C. canon, a collection of those fabulous small B.C. compilations from the strip's first 20 years. So last night I pored through them, going back and back in time. It reminded me of something the youngest of you cannot know: B.C., at its inception, was a stunningly original and brilliant strip. Day after day, the gag was fresh and sharp and witty. Even when he was being derivative, Hart was smart: In one of those early strips, B.C. finds a tablet, picks it up, and it says, "Help, I am Being Held Prisoner in an Engraving Shop." The writing is all flowery, with curlicues and such.

In another one, Thor asks Peter, "Are you a member of the Liar's Club?" and Peter says, "Yes." And Thor says, "Not bad! Would you like to join up?"

Anyway, I believe I found the day that B.C. Married Irving, a historic day in cartoonocity. I cannot be sure, because I could be missing some strips, but I think I have it.

B.C. began in 1958, and it took five years to Marry Irving. This appears to have occurred in late February, 1963.

The Dooky Bird has been carrying love messages from
Thor to the Cute Chick, but drops one and it smashes. He's in trouble. The message had been long and complex, about her hair and the softness of her voice, and he can't possibly remember it. So he goes up to her and says, "There once was a man from Racine…"

This was not Marrying Irving. Conceivably, there could have been a "Racine" in their prehistoric times. It is noteworthy, though, because it is as though Hart were clearing his throat for the abomination he would perpetrate the very next day.

In that strip, the Dooky Bird is standing on a limb, delivering yet another poem to the Cute Chick. He says "Your eyes are shimmering pools, your lips are…" At that point the cute Chick grabs him and kisses him full on the beak. The bird flies giddily back to Thor, and yells at him, "Go Take a Leap, Miles Standish!"

The die was cast. The nuptials occurred on that day.

I am not forgetting that Hart, in recent years, has given indication that the whole strip is a postapocalyptic world. I believe it. But I do not believe he had anything like that in mind back in 1963.

I have asked Liz to link also to one of the odder videos you ever will see. It is a promo for a movie, and I am presuming it is not real. It is hilarious, for reasons we can discuss. I'd like your opinion on what it is, precisely, we are looking at.

As always, I will tell you the right answers to today's poll midway through the chat. I like how you have been answering, so far. Very revealing. Not necessarily in a good way.


The Cartoon runner up is Wednesday's Frazz, for a neat sight gag, and the Pick of the Week is Sunday's Doonesbury. It is not spectacularly funny, but it is pretty jaw-dropping. And it reminds me why Doonesbury is among the greatest strips of all time, hands down: It has NEVER Married Irving.

Okay, let's go.


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washingtonpost.com: Cathy and Irving, the Honeymoon Is Way Over, (Post, Feb. 9)

Pandora's Basket

Comic Pick of the Week:
Doonesbury, (Feb. 13)

Runner Up: Frazz, (Feb. 9)

Vote in today's poll.

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Arlington, Va.: Does anyone think "Baldo" is funny? I suppose if Latino readers find it amusing, I can stand to have it darken my comics page, but I have a sneaking suspicion that NOBODY likes it. On the off chance that Latinos in fact find it funny (I can't imagine anyone else does), why don't the authors publish it in Spanish? That way the target audience will still get their jollies and I can at least laugh at the upside-down exclamation marks.

Gene Weingarten: Baldo may be the worst strip in the paper. Because it is not only unfunny, but it is cynical and pandering.

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For Chatwoman: Ugh! Please, please have them revert back to the old index page for the washingtonpost.com site. The redesign that showed up just now has too many columns, too much dense text. Oy!

washingtonpost.com: It's not an "index page" -- it's a home page. And I think it's cute.

Gene Weingarten: Boy, I dunno. I may be with the chatter on this one. It looks like one of those old newspaper pages, back from 1873. With seventy stories and no headlines.

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Hyprocri, SC: Yesterday on NPR, Johnny Hart said God gave him a platform to preach the gospel to millions every day.

Today, he puts a frog on a caveman's head.

Question: Is this a parable I've forgotten?

Gene Weingarten: Actually, today's strip is a throwback, as it were. An atavism. It could have been run in 1958, and it is pretty good. Liz, can you link to it?

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Dulles, Va.: I need some expert help, Gene, so of course I come to you. I'm trying to write a limerick about a young woman from Venezuela -- named Consuela, of course -- but I can't come up with another rhyme. Anything you can think of that would fit, or even come close to fitting?

Gene Weingarten: "wailer." or "whaler." Buut the first will probably be better, for a limerick.

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washingtonpost.com: B.C., (Feb. 15)

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Gaithersburg, Md.: CPOW: Monday's Get Fuzzy. Shizzle.

washingtonpost.com: Get Fuzzy, (Feb. 14)

Gene Weingarten: I know. He loves to tweak the censors. How about today's, with "deboning beaver"? Liz, can we link to this?

washingtonpost.com: Get Fuzzy, (Feb. 15)

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Buffalo Grove, Ill.: Interesting that Alan Keyes' daughter has now come out as a lesbian. Add her to Dick Cheney's daughter and we might be witnessing a trend here. Wouldn't it be interesting to suggest that growing up in an extremely conservative household could actually encourage homosexuality? Obviously the concept is ridiculous, but just the thought of it might elicit some Don Knotts-ish facial expressions on a few nimrods, don't you think?

Gene Weingarten: HAHAHAHAHA. I like that idea. I may prosecute it.

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DeepThro, AT: Gene:

What's to keep Deep Throat from self identifying? Why do we have to wait for he/she to die and be identified by Ebert and Roeper, or whomever...someone else? In today's environment, wouldn't any self-respecting government snitch be interested in cashing in on that celebrity?

Gene Weingarten: Seriously, I think that Woodward has explained this once or twice: Deep Throat has probably lied to friends and loved ones for years.

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Re: through the hoop: The funniest thing here is that the javelin/ball/woman clearly hit her head on the way through the hoop, but aside from one or two glances, the guys are too busy celebrating their mastery of trig and geometry to offer her any attention.

Gene Weingarten: Right, exactly. She has executed this incredible maneuver, but they are celebrating THEIR accomplishment, and callously don't even notice she is injured.

However, I think it is a fraud. I think this was computer assisted.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Gene, it feels like you buried the lead when you linked to the Steuver article about Cathy. This article appeared in the print edition, right? So, does this not mark the first time that a large portion of a print article in a major newspaper was given over to discussing something that "happened" in an online chat at that newspaper's Web site? And isn't that a bit odd?

Gene Weingarten: I believe our chat has made "news" before. In fact, i know it. Just a few weeks ago, with the savaging of Garfield. There have been other examples.

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Hi Gene!: Sorry about the delay in getting here. I got lost in the Post's new home-page design.

Oh, and speaking of Hi! Gene -- today's Achenblog is really funny.

washingtonpost.com: Achenblog

Gene Weingarten: Right. Apparently, Joel also beat me to it with a link to that basketball thang.

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Strapping: Gene,

How's the shaving coming along? We haven't heard any updates on facial bleeding or trips to the ER... I'm curious to know how the straight razor is working out.

Gene Weingarten: I no longer bleed or nick myself, but I still need to touch up after the straight-razoring, which still takes upwards of 15 minutes.

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Fix the Home page: I also hate the new home page layout. I like knowing where every column is supposed to be, not having to search them out from a huge wad of text.

washingtonpost.com: You'll get used to it. All of the columns are listed, by the way, in the "Columnists" drop-down box on the left side of the page... a bit under the photo.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

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Washington, D.C.: Both of the comics in this week's poll are better than any of the single-panel comics that The Post currently carries. Can't you recommend both?

Gene Weingarten: They're not both better than Speed Bump. They're better than the rest. Of the single panels.

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Change My Vote: I never look at poll results before voting, but this time I wish I had. I did think "Brevity's" Tow Truck was the single funniest panel but based on the three of each that you provided, I feel certain that "Loose Parts" would be more consistently funny and something I might actually look forward to as I go thru the comics pages.

At this early hour, looks like "Brevity is" the favorite. Too bad. It's seems overly mean which is not at all like the "Far Side."

(and thanks, Liz, for your "portrait" of Gene. You've reminded me of Burns and Schreiber (sic) a great comedy duo I loved in the 70's... something new to google at work!)

Gene Weingarten: This is interesting; a few people, but only a few, are making this very point.

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New home page: Sorry, I agree with Chatwoman -- the new home page is more compact, and I don't have to scroll waaaaaaay down to find the chats. Before it felt the chats were an afterthought. Now it looks like a real part of what washingtonpost.com is about.

Gene Weingarten: Noted, and...

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I love the new home page: And I wouldn't trust Gene's opinion on anything related to web design.

Gene Weingarten: Noted. And acknowledged. Or design of any sort.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm a guy, 26 and married three years. I had a dream last night where I was propositioned by a female friend (a respectable 7 out of 10), and I turned her down. In truth, I probably would do the same in real life because I love my wife and have never cheated, but this was a DREAM. So my question is, what the hell is wrong with me?

Gene Weingarten: That is a lot hotter than most of my dreams. I will, I swear, dream of having to cover a zoning board hearing.

This does remind me of a joke I recently heard. Guy wakes up with a black eye, a crushing hangover. Sees a glass of orange juice next to the bed with aspirin and a note that says "I love you." He staggers into the kitchen, where there is a light breakfast made, the paper arranged the way he likes it, and a note that says, "I had to leave for work,but I'll be home early to cook you your favorite dinner."

The guy asks his kids what happened last night. They said, "you got home at 3am drunk out of your mind, puked in the living room, fell down and hit your eye on the table. Mom had to drag you to bed."

"Then what's all this lovey-dovey stuff she left me?"

As she was pulling off your clothes, you said, "Leave me alone, lady, I'm a married man."

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Wrestling with this one...: Gene, did you really write "kick you're a--"? With no intent of parody, so far as I can tell? Will Pat the Perfect now kick your a--? And if so, may I come watch?

washingtonpost.com: Give him a break. He was drunk when he wrote that.

Gene Weingarten: I was not drunk. I was huffing formaldehyde.

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Metano, IA: Gene -- What about comic strips that marry Irving one week and divorce him the next? It seems like "Pearls Before Swine" does that to an uncomfortable degree. One week it will be the funniest thing in comics in ages, and the next Pastis latches on to some conceit that he beats into the ground until you're almost begging for the strip to be put out of its misery. Don't get me wrong, I love PBS, but to say that it's inconsistent is to put it mildly.

Gene Weingarten: This is a good point. Pastis hits heady highs and smelly lows. I way prefer this to comics that don't try. He really tries, and hits more than he misses.

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Rockville, Va.: Someone told Fisher that you knew who Deep Throat is. Let's have it you slimebag!

washingtonpost.com: Well, if it was mentioned in an online chat, it must be true.

Gene Weingarten: Precisely.

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Fairbanks, Alaska: I am amused by your male/female discussions of bathroom etiquette and I thought I'd pass on a view from the Northland, where outhouses are still in common use. I had a grad school acquantaince who had to decide whether it was worthwhile to retrieve his errant wallet that had fallen into the outhouse hole -- given his frugality he retrieved his wallet, washed it off, and proceeded to use it for another couple of years until his future wife gave him a new one. As you might have guessed, the 'event' occurred in winter, where the spoilage of the wallet was minimal due to the formidable winter icycle effect. He also was in a "deluxe" outhouse with a styrofoam seat (very necessary at -40F temps).

For some regional comic humor you can check out Tundra.

Gene Weingarten: I am going to be in your neck of the woods, soon.

The best example of this sort of scatological Sophie's Choice is chronicled in my hypochondria book: A man dropped his false teeth into the toilet and flushed. It was recovered from the septic tank. His choice was to clean it off and pop 'em back in, or pay for new choppers.

He popped.

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Warshington, D 2-tha C: Gene,

So what do you think Pastis was up to with Sunday's strip? Taking a swipe at comics editors seems worthwhile, especially if their comics responsibility is marginalized by a host of other duties that indicate a paper's relative respect for the comics page. However, the page area debate w.r.t. "Opus" seems to indicate a beef with Berkeley.

My understanding was that Berkeley's demand for vast acreage was in reaction to editors' choices to run 38 million strips as small as possible, to make sure no one got offended if "Mark Trail" and "Garfield" were (rightfully) sacked.

Taking umbrage with Berkeley's demands for space seems to be counter intuitive to the artists' best interest.

Any thoughts? Also, I'd love to hear/read the perspectives of Messrs Pastis and Breathed.

Thanks!

What's brown and sounds like a bell?

washingtonpost.com: Pearls Before Swine, (Feb. 13)

Gene Weingarten: Dung.

Well, a lot of cartoonists were peeved at what they felt was the hubris of Berkeley's request; to some of them, it was not seen as a courageous demand for quality that would benefit them all, but an act of selfishness -- like someone demanding extra vittles during a famine.

The fact is, it only partially worked: In the face of somewhat disappointing sales, Berkeley has allowed newspapers to downsize it to normal space. Some have, some haven't.

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Bethesda, Md.: Wow, did you see Hi and Lois yesterday (Valentine's Day)?

washingtonpost.com: Hi and Lois, (Feb. 14)

Gene Weingarten: WOW!

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Poll: I can't answer the today's poll : it lacks "none of them" at each question. These comics are so lame.

...

Aren't they ?

Gene Weingarten: No.

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Boulder, Colo.: Gene, here is a great quiz regarding which urinal to use in the men's restroom, reminiscent of Dave Barry's ruminations on men's rooms. It is family-friendly (or... as least as much so as everything else in these chats).

Gene Weingarten: This entire thing is played out, rather elegantly, in the new movie "Dave Barry's Guide to Guys." A camera is secreted in a men's room, and Dave and Dan Marino are outside in a camera truck, watching the events unfold and literally diagramming the plays as men enter and decide which urinal to use.

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Anonymous: I think I remember that you have in the past kept track of the airbrushing habits of Victoria's Secret. This weekend, I noticed something that made me go through the magazine page by page twice. They are now airbrushing -- or rather replacing -- the models' belly buttons if they have belly button rings.

This does not happen every time, however. In fact, the cover clearly shows a woman wearing a turquoise bra and underwear set, her face in focus and lower body blurred. Belly button ring intact. Open the magazine and there is the same woman, same set, but now she has an unpierced navel. And it's a bad PhotoShop job; clearly the donor of the belly button was a bit darker than the model. Are navel piercings really so incendiary?

Just thought you'd like the chance to investigate.

Gene Weingarten: This reminds me of one of my favorite stories I ran when I was editor of Sunday Style. It was by Leiby, about Victoria's Secret catalogues and the airbrushing of nipples. Liz, can you find this? Roughly 1995, I would guess.

The key is that the giant joke won't be as clear online. You need to figure out precisely at what point the story jumped from the front of the section.

Gene Weingarten: Liz, I am informed, will paste in the story until shortly after the jump.

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washingtonpost.com: Victoria's Little Secret
Richard Leiby
Post, March 5, 1995

As a professional observer of cultural trends and human behavior, it is my job -- indeed, my duty -- to find and grasp the truth amid the thicket of lies in which we live. This I must do however repugnant the task.

For that reason, and that reason alone, I now have on my desk a foot-high stack of Victoria's Secret catalogues, filled with photographs of stunningly beautiful women posing provocatively in their underwear. I gathered these publications as part of an exhaustive study. In recent weeks I have interviewed many readers and collectors of the Victoria's Secret catalogue, both male and female; I have located rare editions published a half-dozen years ago; I have carefully inspected the physiognomy of models named Frederique and Heather; I have examined, frame by frame, a video called "Dreams & Fantasies: The Making of the Victoria's Secret Catalogue"; I have become intimately familiar with such items as the black lace body stocking decorated with the fan motif ($48).

Suffice it to say, none of this work has been easy. But I have undertaken it because I feel obligated to expose a dark truth within a hugely successful, multimillion-dollar retail organization that thrives on sheer illusion. My findings speak directly to our changing society, its taboos and its underlying hypocrisy.

What, exactly, is the deep secret within Victoria's Secret? I can tell it now that I have safely blathered on long enough so that the offending notion is contained not on the front page, where it might be casually encountered by innocent eyes, but inside the paper where only readers who have been duly forewarned will turn to discover that Victoria's Secret has decided to remove from its catalogue any suggestion that women possess nipples.

Yes, nipples. Victoria's Secret -- surely the most popular lingerie catalogue in America -- has eliminated its models' nipples.

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Salem, Ore.: "If you think that 'asking' the White House in high moral dudgeon to call off the incessant, cookie cutter attacks on your alleged Blue State tendencies will achieve anything but making you look a bit naïve, you have another thing coming."

This is not about the rant, but when did "you have another THING coming" become so common?

I see it all over these days.

Sigh.

Gene Weingarten: You will see it accepted in dictionaries pretty soon. It is sad.

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Cubeville: All this chat about Super Bowl commercials reminded me of my favorite British commercial. It was for Tenet's Pilsner.

A guy spots a pub called the Railway Men's Rest with a Tenet's Pilsner sign in the window. He goes in, orders a Tenet's, and is about to pick up his glass when a train goes by and the vibrations cause his glass to fall to the floor.

We next see him walking again and he spots another pub with the Tenet's sign. This one is called the Cricketer's Arms. He goes in, orders and Tenet's, and is lifting the glass to his mouth when a cricket ball flies in the door and hits in the back of the head causing him to drop his beer.

Third scene, he is walking again and spots another pub with a Tenet's sign. This one is called the Organ Grinder. He sees the sign, turns, and runs like hell. Their slogan was, "It's good, but not that good."

Gene Weingarten: That's great. And it reminds me of the joke about the guy who stops at the farmers house and asks to get some milk from his milkweed patch. You all know that joke, I'm sure.

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Ain't Saint Louis No, MO: Gene, try as you might you can't fool us in your articles. I've been reading the newspaper for years, and I know for a fact that haste-based, excitement-driven factual errors were invented by bloggers.

And one other thing. I rarely wish someone dead, but wouldn't it be Aptonym of the Century if the guy who writes Beetle Bailey died and his comic stayed in the paper?

Gene Weingarten: HAHAHAHAHAHA. Very good. Think about it, people.

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Allegany, N.Y.: Love the new illustration. Liz has captured your inner essence, and now you no longer look like Michael Medved's long-lost twin.

washingtonpost.com: Thank you. At least someone likes it.

Gene Weingarten: I like it. It is better than the photo of me on the website.

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Iowa: Noted that there is another Post chat today on Office Romances Gone Bad. Does the Post have a policy on such office fraternization? (Professional organizations seem to treat this differently than institutions of higher ed with their inherent inequities of the faculty/student relationship.)

Gene Weingarten: It is Prohibited, but for some reason they are looking the other way with Liz and me. I think it is because we are franchise players.

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washingtonpost.com: Vote in today's poll

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OtherMansWifeDrea, MS: Gene -- The story of the guy dreaming of his best friend's wife reminds me of the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode where Jeff tells Larry that he fantasized about Larry's wife while, um, pleasuring himself -- and then defended himself against Larry's dismay by claiming he had no control over who was going to walk into his fantasies uninvited. I guess that's all to say that I hope this guy is never dumb enough to tell his friend that he's dreaming about his wife.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, and it reminds me of a comic from last week. "That's Life" from Thursday. Liz?

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DeeCee: What I find most interesting about the video, is not the coolness of the stunt (which is cool) or where it came from. It's that the guys all stand around high fiving themselves. None of them seem to care that the most difficult part of the trick was not done by them or even more disturbingly, that the young woman seems to have hurt herself when she went through. None of them notice.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, precisely the point.

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washingtonpost.com: That's Life, (Feb. 10)

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washingtonpost.com: That's Life, (Feb. 10)

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Deep Thro, AT: Gene does not know me.

End of discussion.

Gene Weingarten: Dang.

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Washington, D.C.: The poll is a trick, right? To illustrate your contention that humor is objective? Because "Brevity" is clearly far better. It's wittier and more inventive, and the art is somewhat more appealing. LP's art is too openly a "Far Side" takeoff, what with the blank eyeglasses. Also, the "stomach" cartoon is just another example of the familiar trope, "English-language expressions are sometimes unusual if interpreted in a thuddingly literal way." Pastis has already beaten this genre to death (it's Pig's whole shtick); we don't need another cartoon doing the same thing.

Gene Weingarten: Noted. Thanks for writing in, Brevity Guy.

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Jumpthesh, Ark.: I'm not sure "marrying Irving" will have much of a natural life, since I don't think there's much of a need to identify the particular storyline that signals a comic strip's flatlining.

I mean, just looking at the locus classicus, didn't "Cathy" "marry Irving" at least 10 years ago?

Gene Weingarten: I was going to make this point in the intro, but you beat me to it with this early posting. Yes, and that is the beauty of it. Cathy married Irving before she even MET Irving, I think. Which is sort of neat. The metaphor transcends specifics. It is that strong.

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Claremont, Calif.: I was enjoying "Wine Night" with my friends, which involves a fair amount of wine and a disproportionate amount of pretentsion, and the topic of great sitcoms came up. I proposed a top five ranking of: All In The Family, Three's Company, The Simpsons, M-A-S-H, and Seinfeld (in no particular order). Others that evening were making an argument for Friends, but I would have none of it. To help settle the argument I decided to consult you and ask for your ranking. Keep in mind we're college juniors, which is probably why I didn't seriously consider I Love Lucy and probably why I overlooked The Honeymooners. Also, the criteria was sitcoms on the four major networks that were of the traditional 30 minute variety, and flat out humor value is of greater importance than populist appeal, but cultural importance (i.e. the influence on social mores and later sitcoms is important).

By the way, I love the pic, Liz.

Gene Weingarten: I'm not going to respond to this, because you have a ringer in there, and you know it.

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Rosslyn, Va.: I'm just wondering what you're favorite comic strip is. The are so many to choose from, I'd have to say "Get Fuzzy" is mine. I've always thought cats were evil. But if your favorite is different I'll change, because I try to model my life after yours.

Gene Weingarten: I understand. I don't really have a favorite. I have about ten that I really respect and look forward to reading.

I USED to have a favorite. But it is dead. So is my second favorite.

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Reef, AU: Instead of "jump the shark", I was hoping Mark Trail would "punch the shark". But I was disappointed yet again.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.

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Dreams: I'm like you, I dream about exciting things like hearings and depositions that I need to prepare for, and my SO dreams about Bob Dylan and Uma Thurman and I'm sure lots of other things he's not mentioning

Gene Weingarten: It's really unfair, isn't it? I keep meaning to write a column about my stupid dreams.

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Northern Virginia: Gene,

As fair warning, this query does not involve humor or what I would consider a humorous situation (although humorous responses should not be discouraged).

I have been a regular reader of your columns and chats for quite some time and greatly appreciate not only your humor, but also the insight you and fellow chatters have brought to many issues. I have an issue that has been bothering me for a while and thought your chat might be a good place to bring it out: specifically, the new concepts of "hero" and "heroism" that have swept over the country the past few years.

First, let me clearly state that I do not intend to in any way denigrate the service or sacrifices that have been made by members of the Armed Forces. However, I have become more and more uncomfortable with the tendency in this country to label everyone in uniform a hero. I am a veteran who served with the U.S. Army Special Forces and encountered many "interesting" situations in certain locales during my time in uniform. It has been well over five years since I left the military, but I remain proud of what I did.

Then a weird thing happened...

I was at a large holiday party hosted by a friend last December. A woman in her mid/late-20s (who I already knew) found out that I had been in the Army and, with wide eyes and utmost sincerity, said "Thank you. You are a hero." I immediately felt very uncomfortable with her comment and quickly explained that, yes, I had been in the Army, but that was a long time ago and I had certainly never done anything "heroic" -- whatever that word might mean. She brushed my objections aside and continued to insist that she considered me a "hero." Her enthusiasm made her voice louder and others nearby were paying attention.

Gene, I am not a shy person, but this situation became extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing, and I found myself trying to hide from her for the rest of the evening, as well as from a few others who began doing the same kind of thing! Please understand that this woman was not drunk and she was definitely not hitting on me. She really meant what she was saying -- as did the others. But I don't believe that they actually UNDERSTOOD what they were saying. And, what's worse, similar incidents have happened since then.

So here's my question for you and for the wider world: What exactly does "hero" mean?

And why have I become conditioned to run from that word as if some part of my soul is in danger?

Gene Weingarten: I would say that someone is a hero if they have done something extremely selfless, at great risk or at great cost to themselves, to appreciably help others.

I share your concern.

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Peanuts: Peanuts "married Irving" with the introduction of Rerun. The kids never age, but there is a new brother? Whuh huh?

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Interesting.

I thought it might have been the introduction of Spike, that idiot dog in the desert.

Anyone else, on this strip or others?

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Washington, D.C.: Office romance at the Post is Prohibited? Really? What reasons to they cite for the rule? I work in an office with about 200 people. I can remember at least five office romances that led to marriage within the office (including my own marriage.) There were no big problems that I noticed. Productivity doesn't seem to have been adversely affected. As a matter of fact, one of the couples subsequently got divorced and continued to work together productively after the divorce. My husband and I worked together for a long time before marrying, and continue to sit next to each other at work.

To be fair, some years ago there was a guy dating a woman here at work who got dumped by her after a while. He took it so hard that he resigned suddenly. Those of us who had to clean up after him felt it wasn't a great loss to the office, though.

Gene Weingarten: No, I was kidding. Office romance is not prohibited. Office romance between boss and underling is heavily discouraged, and must be arm's length (disclosed) if it exists, I think. Then one or the other participant will be moved.

I think we can all remember that Bradlee-Quinn began as an office romance, no?

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Hero City: Did you see the Janis Joplin tribute during the Grammies? I'm a middle-aged hetero kind of guy. And Melissa Etheridge is my hero.

Gene Weingarten: She definitely did something to help others, at cost to herself.

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Stephan Pastis, Santa Rosa, Calif.: I'd answer the Opus question, but I don't have time.

I'm trying to catch a plane to Metano, Iowa, where I plan on kicking some serious -$$.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.... Later.

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"...my SO dreams about Bob Dylan and Uma Thurman": Bob Dylan AND Uma Thurman?!;?!;

What's the category? People who aren't half as special as they think they are?

Gene Weingarten: Dylan is pretty special, laddie.

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Qunatico, Va.: As a former Marine, I've had several similar experiences with women insisting I am/was "a hero." They are not sincere. They just want sex. Trust me on this.

washingtonpost.com: I'd like to note that this Marine can't spell "Quantico."

Gene Weingarten: You poor guy.

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BTW, About Spike: I would say that brother Spike has to qualify as the very worst thing ever to happen to comics. Any other nominees?

Gene Weingarten: Spike was bad, definitely.

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Shark jumping: Peanuts jumped the "x"th time Lucy pulled the ball away.

Bloom County jumped when Steve got amnesia.

Gene Weingarten: I disagree about the ball. Repeating a good gag isn't marrying Irving.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll. First off, I note with approval that you are Not Sure. That is fine. These are two pretty good comics, and the choices aren't obvious, or easy. Though, of course, there are Right Answers, and you mostly got them Wrong. Don't feel bad. You aren't professionals.

(Please note that I chose the best of the last week's strips. These are not remotely the very best of either comic.)

I tend to like Loose Parts a little better, in general. It is more risk-taking, in general. And that is what this single-panel wackfest must be.

Of these six panels, the two best, clearly, are the tow truck and … the arrow in the foot. Sorry, but it is really clever, particularly on Valentine's Day. Not sure why you all seemed so in love with the snowman. It's just sorta mean, without any real meaning. Not a worthy follower of Watterson.

The "Got Loose Parts?" is brilliant, but too hard to read. A slight failure of execution.


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Spike hands down: Sally and Linus were born during the strip, too.

Gene Weingarten: Right. Did they just appear as talking kids? I forget.

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Washington, D.C.: Dead Favorites

Calvin and Hobbes
Far Side

Which is your #1?

Gene Weingarten: They stand alone on the pinnacle. They are too different to compare. They're both number one.

We didn't know how great we had it in the 1980s. Camelot.

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Ringer: ...it's Seinfeld, right? Overrated tripe.

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.

By the way, Seinfeld didn't jump the shark until the last episode.

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Eh!;?: How much credibility do you lose for mixing up "Larson" and "Watterson?"

Gene Weingarten: I did?

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Gene Weingarten: Oh, No, I meant Watterson, with the snowmen.

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Qunatico, VA: Spelling: bad. Sxe: great.

Gene Weingarten: Nice.

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Heroi, SM: Unfortunately, the "watering down" of hero is here to stay. I could cite examples of sports "heros," media hyped "role models," and so forth, but I think in the particular instance noted by the poster above, the problem lies with residual guilt over the conflict in Vietnam. That military endeavor was considered by many people to be wrong, and mistake ridden. This caused a backlash felt by soldiers who were sent (many against their will) to fight for this country. As a country, we've been conditioned to remember that mistake, and while we might condemn the current military exercise in Iraq, we must laud the young men and women who have taken up arms under our flag. By and large they aren't heroes, but they shouldn't be picked on for serving in the armed forces. I think there is a vast middle ground, but some people see it as a black and white issue.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I think this is the genesis of it. I agree.

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Spite about Spike: C'mon, Peanuts at least started sleeping with Irving when Schultz turned Snoopy into a WWI fighting ace. Or maybe it was with the introduction of Woodstock. At any rate, when Schultz started making a deliberate engagement with popular culture, Peanuts took a turn for the worse. It was already in a committed relationship with Irving long before the introduction or Rerun or Spike.

Gene Weingarten: I don't agree. Snoopy on his Sopwith Camel was not even courting Irving.

Peanuts went a long way before the wedding.

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Hey, Pastis!;: Was "Metano, Iowa" an oblique reference to metanoia? A spiritual conversion or awakening, a fundamental change of character?

If so, you are my hero.

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

It must be.

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Indiana: "Garfield" married Irving when the main character developed a taste for Italian food and a dislike of Mondays. Also when he became more cute, less obese.

"Boondocks" married Irving when about 10 regular characters dropped out and it was always, in essence, Linus and Charlie Brown on the bridge.

"Pogo" married Irving when it was reintroduced about 10 years ago (post-Walt Kelly).

The big problem is, a lot of comic strips were never good enough to have gotten to the point of marrying Irving - they were crummy from day one.

Gene Weingarten: I agree with one and two, and it raises an interesting point: is it possible, once one has married Irving, to divorce him? Boondocks had a very very bad listless period, and it has gotten much better.

Though it still relies waaay too much on conversations on a cliff.

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You are wrong: The snowman strip was great, and he wasn't trying to follow Watterson. It wasn't the snowman itself that was the joke, but the father's sublimated rage. The father isn't being mean, he's completely oblivious to how his feelings are being manifested in the snowman and to how his son might react to hearing the explanation.

Gene Weingarten: Eh.

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Watterson/Larson: With the understanding that you were referencing Watterson's snowmen rather than Larson's Far Side, all is forgiven. My apologies for doubting you.

Gene Weingarten: Accepted.

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Centreville, Va.: As a another Marine, first of all I'd like to point out I can spell all sorts of things. Second, that adoring hero stuff gets very old, very fast (I can punctuate too... and spell parentheses).

I stopped wearing my uniform on the metro when I finally got tired of having conversations with strangers about how they were a Marine they know a Marine, or their friend's uncle's son is in some far distant land. Aren't "heroes" entitled to their peace and quiet?

washingtonpost.com: Work on comma usage.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

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Arlington, Va.: This was a post on last Friday's "Dating Doctor" chat. There's what HAS GOT to be a typo, making it oh so funny... (and I send it only so that Brentwood, Md. will hopefully see it and have a laugh too!)

"Brentwood, Md.: Hi David,
I was with a guy for 13 years and when we moved in together after we became engaged things fell apart. Needless to say I was distraught and upset. After I moved out a year later I went thru different relationships and no one seem really to tickle my fanny. I am 39 years old and decided to have children out of two of those relationships even though I never married. My children are 3 years old and 3 months. My youngest one's father is very supportive but I do not love him and there is no discussion of marriage. We are good partners, but I do not understand why I do not have a love interest in him. Do you think that I should try to grow with him and see what happens or to keep looking for someone that I am truly interested in?
Signed,
Waiting for love"

Gene Weingarten: Har har. I am guessing she thought that was the expression.

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Dr. Hypochondria: A diagnosis, please. I just went to the bathroom, and for some reason on my way back to my desk my whole left leg went numb from my crotch to my foot (I'm female). I could walk, but it was... uncomfortable, to say the least. This has happened before, and I sometimes wake up at night with my hand so numb it's immobile (I wouldn't have been sleeping on it or on my arm, usually). That last one used to happen nearly every night, but it's backed off some. Am I pinching nerves, or is my brain eating itself? I'm not overweight, by the way.

Gene Weingarten: When seated on the pot, you are compressing a nerve in your thigh. This is common, and gets commoner the older you are. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not vascular.

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Gene Weingarten: Thank you all. Another excellent week, with a huge number of questions. Sorry about those many good ones i could not get to.

See you next week; then I will be gone for a couple of weeks on another secret assignment in an exciting place ordinary people never get to go.

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UPDATED 02.16.05

Gene Weingarten: HOLY COW. Late yesterday I discovered an even earlier anachronism in "B.C." And it is a doozy. This one occurs in early 1962. Curls goes to BC with a manuscript, and says, "Did you write this tommyrot?" And B.C. says, "What do you mean, tommyrot. This book is a classic in its field!" And Curls says, "So was Mein Kampf."

I am now on a desperate search to confirm this one is in fact the earliest.

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Gene Weingarten: Well, it took until 40 minutes after the chat ended, but someone finally asked to know the joke about the milkweed.

A farmer is at home when there's a knock on the door. It is a city slicker, carrying a pail.

"Sorry to bother you, sir, but I was driving by your north 40 and I noticed you have a rather large patch of milkweed growing there. I have a couple of young children, and I would sure appreciate it if you'd let me get some milk from it."

"You want to get milk from my milkweed?" the farmer asked.

"Yessir."

"Well, sure son, you go knock yourself out." So the city feller walked out toward the north 40, and about a half an hour later, the farmer sees him walking back to his car, with a bucket sloshing with milk.

The next week, same farmer, same knock on the door, same city feller, same bucket.

"While I was out there with the milkweed, I couldn't help but notice you had some honeysuckle. Well, the wife and I love honey, would you mind if I harvested some?"

Bemused, the farmer says, sure, and sure enough, a half hour later, he sees the city feller come back with a bucket of honey.

Week later, same farmer, same knock, same city feller.

"You know, when I was out there harvesting the honey, I couldn't help but notice you had some pussywillow..."

The farmer said, "Hang on, I'll get my coat."

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Today's Aptonym: "One person who was disappointed that the [Virginia underwear] bill died is Marc Butlein, chief executive of Freshpair.com, the underwear company that started National Underwear Day."

Gene Weingarten: Yes, this is a first-class aptonym.

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Washington, D.C.: Question for you or Pat: if you experience something visually with your eyes, and orally with your mouth, what is the equivalent word for experiencing something with your nose?

Gene Weingarten: Well, I'd say if you were running into it with your nose, it would be "nasally," but if you were smelling something, it would be "olfactorily."

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Alexandria, Va.: Per your column this past Sunday: I hope your report on the Michigan cat-hunting law led to the repeal of this barbaric act. Otherwise, we might see cases of armed cats acting in self-defense, and it wouldn't be pretty.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I got some hate mail on this one. It was kind of silly.

Guys, what do you think would happen if, tomorrow, The Washington Post reported that there was a 150-year-old law in Virginia, still on the books, that made it legal to kill a house cat any time, anywhere, and for any reason?

You know what would happen. Within 24 hours, every single state legislator would announce himself horrified, and pledge to spearhead a drive to overturn the law. Speeches would be spoken. Declarations of love for cats would be tendered. The legislature would meet in emergency session, if need be, to strike down the dastardly law.

Well, that is exactly what happened after I wrote my story in 1977. No harm attached.

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UPDATED 02.17.05

Weddings: I disagree with you on weddings. Yes, we have all been to overblown, overcrowded, over-the-top weddings. But I don't think the only alternative is eloping with a JP -- middle ground exists.

We had a small wedding that was by all means traditional -- about 80 guests, minister, dinner, dancing, white dress, etc. Of course we were lucky enough to have our friends' waterfront home available. But still -- it's possible. My dress was $200 off the rack, shoes $25 from Frugal Fannies. No bouquet or garter because I hate those traditions, and no one seemed to mind. One maid of honor, one groomsman. It was lovely and sane.

Gene Weingarten: That's splendid. But I would contend that you didn't have a "wedding," you had a "party."

washingtonpost.com: Eighty guests is a small wedding?

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Washington, D.C.: The DOOKY bird?!?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, that is the name that Hart gave his bird character. The bird didn't have a name, until his granddaughter asked him what its name was. And so he asked her for her advice. And she said, hm, well a bird doesn't do anything but make dookey. So it became the dookey bird. I know this because Hart told it to me, when I interviewed him for a profile. I also found that he actually used "Dookey bird" in one of those early books. I think he used it exactly once.

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Marrying Irving: I have a submission for when "For Better or For Worse" married Irving. I think it's when Farley died. Even though it was an interesting storyline, it was at that point that the strip turned from a funny and realistic look at parenting and kids, into a preachy strip that tackled special issues like store theft, special need kids, and 14-year-old girls making out with older boys.

I remember when FBOFW used to be funny, I wish it would go back to that.

Gene Weingarten: This is a good observation. I'll bet it really influenced Lynn Johnston. Because Farley dying became a huge sensation. It got the strip more attention than it had ever gotten. Around the time Farley died, in fact, the Post put it on the front of the comics sexion.

It may well have started the subsequent torrent of treacle and moralizing.

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Scatalogical Sophie's Choice: One of my friends had a worse situation than either described. He swallowed a bridge that the dentist had recently put in place. Rather than pay for a second molding, etc., the dentist had him filter (for lack of a better term) all his number two with Saran wrap until the bridge was recovered.

Once it was processed and recovered the dentist glued it back into his mouth (after sanitizing, of course).

The best part (for us) was all the bad puns, i.e. he's talking sh-t, talking out his a$$, etc.

Gene Weingarten: You know, this is in fact exactly the scenario that is in my book; I had misremembered. The guy swallowed his own bridge, and then was given the choice of cleaning it off, or springing for a new one.

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Arlington, Va.: "Something extremely selfless, at great risk or at great cost to themselves, to appreciably help others."

I dunno, seems that this pretty much describes serving in uniform nowadays. I mean, they get paid, but how many of us would do it?

Gene Weingarten: I don't dispute this. Serving these days in a combat zone is heroic, if you volunteered for it. If you are sort of compelled to go because you are in the reserve, I would say it is courageous and worthy and deserving of respect... Do you attach "heroic?" That's a tough call.

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washingtonpost.com: Questions? Comments? Please direct them to next week's discussion.

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Updated 2.18.05

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Hoops film: Nicely done piece of editing. The cheerleader-woman doesn't deserve an Oscar for pretending to have hit her head on something.

Gene Weingarten: Right. I realized this was clearly enhanced when I slowed it up, after the chat. She goes through the hoop with her arms at her sides, which would be insane, if this were real.

Also, as another chatter notes, the interior of a basketball rim is very rough, with hooks for the net. No way she does this and emerges unsliced.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene,
I want to go to library school. I think I will be an excellent librarian!

My parents and two older siblings (a doctor and a lawyer, of course) are being (I think) unreasonably snotty about this career choice. IE, I'm basically wasting an Ivy League degree by choosing such a, quote, low prestige career.

Reassure me I'm not crazy doing this? To each their own, right?!

Sigh. It sucks being the weird one.

Gene Weingarten: I can assure you that some of the most important people in the lives of the best writers at The Washington Post are the best librarians at The Washington Post. A great librarian can win you a Pulitzer Prize.

Remember that poll a while back where I talked about wanting a job where you can be the best in the world at what you do?

Librarian: No question.

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XXXXXX: Alexandria, Va.: Until [Tuesday's] chat, I was impressed with the cognitive skills of both yourself and Liz, but your denial of the widespread existence of Bridezillas like Cathy was beyond belief. Perhaps you should move your eyes slightly from today's comics over to the "Ask Amy" advice column, where a 31-year-old woman wonders how to cope with her domineering mother without giving up the $10,000 bankroll that Mom is contributing to a $20,000 dream wedding.

washingtonpost.com: Let me field this one... or at least start. Gene and I did not deny the existence of Bridezillas -- we (or I) professed an almost physically manifest aversion to them.

Gene Weingarten: Big weddings CREATE Bridezillas.

I am going to be spending this weekend with my daughter, in Ithaca, checking out Cornell vet school. I plan to have a Meaningful Discussion with her on this very subject.

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washingtonpost.com: Questions? Comments? Please direct them to next week's discussion.


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