Chatological Humor* (Updated 8.05.05)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 2, 2005; 12:00 PM

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

DAILY UPDATES: 8.03.05 | 8.04.05 | 8.05.05

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

Handling Gene Weingarten's chat this week will be his heirs and progeny, Molly (24) and Dan (21). Molly -- a recent graduate of UPenn -- will be leaving next month to attend Cornell Veterinary School. Dan is involved in a clandestine humor project. Molly and Dan have instructed their father to go away, and Trust Them. This fills their father with both pride and mortal terror.

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.

The transcript follows.


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

This is the last you will be hearing from me, today. After this intro, I am going to turn this chat over to my two kids, of whom I am very proud and very afraid.

Molly, 24, is just in from Denver, where she had been living for a year. She is about to leave for Ithaca, N.Y., where she will be attending Cornell Veterinary School. Dan, 21, is currently living here with us. In more ways than it is entirely comfortable to admit, Dan is a chip off the old block; like his father, he jettisoned college midstream for a wildly unpredictable course in life. He is currently working at Frager's Hardware store in Washington, and has embarked on other creative, but secret, enterprises. These include, but are not limited to, learning to play the didgery-doo, an Australian aboriginal musical instrument that looks like an elephant penis and sounds like a dying moose.

I have promised my children, solemnly, that I will not write anything in this introduction that will embarrass them, and I plan to keep my promise. Fortunately, nothing in this promise prohibits me from quoting from a column Dave Barry wrote in 1986:


What we had in mind was a fun and spontaneous getaway weekend in Key West with our son, Robert and our friends Gene and [name withheld by longstanding mutual agreement]

and their two children, Molly and Danny. So we tossed several thousand child-related objects into our two cars and off we went in a little spontaneous convoy, and, after a couple of hours, we stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch. Except, of course, the children didn't want to eat lunch. Children never want to eat in restaurants. What they want to do is play under the table until the entrees arrive, then go to the bathroom. ...

...When we all got out of the restrooms, we parents grabbed quick, violent bites from our nice cold entrees in between checking young Danny's head for signs of breakage after he walked into adjacent tables. ...

Eventually it was time to go back to the hotel for an intimate evening of sitting on the floor drinking beer and watching the older children bounce on the bed and eat potato chips while young Danny located bureaus to bang his head into...

After breakfast, we went back to our hotel so the children could get something to eat, and then we decided that the women would go shopping and the men, being Caring and Sharing eighties-style males, would take the children. Gene and I thought it would be fun to go to the beach, so off we went, unfortunately forgetting to take any of the items usually associated with the beach, such as toys, suntan lotion, rafts, or bathing suits. We did, however, remember to bring the children. Call it instinct.

Of course, as soon as we got to the beach, little Molly announced that she had to go to the bathroom, and so I watched Danny and Robert fill their shorts with beach muck while Gene and Molly hiked off in search of a restroom, which they eventually found a half mile away. It took them a long time to get back, because Molly refused to go into the men's room and Gene can't go into the women's room, so he had to hang around right outside like a sex offender while Molly went in alone, only she came back five minutes later and reported that she couldn't find the toilets. You wonder how we got this far as a species.

Finally, they got back, and we decided we'd better head back to the hotel, because one of the many things we had forgotten was young Danny's diaper bag, and he was wearing his Big Boy underpants, making him, in Gene's words, a "time bomb."


Okay! I think that does the job nicely.

Make sure to take today's poll, which was created by Dan. He will explain the correct answers -- there are definitely correct answers -- midway through the chat.

It was a very weak comic week. The CPOW is Sunday's Fox Trot. The First runner up are Saturday and Monday's Baby Blues, and an honorable mention to Friday's Candorville, which is becoming a rather excellent political cartoon.

Okay. Well, goodbye. I'm sure everything will be fine, now. (I will do the updates this week, answer questions not directed to my kids.)

Goodbye. I'm completely confident and serene.



Comic Pick of the Week: Foxtrot (July 31)

First Runners Up: Baby Blues (July 30) and Baby Blues (August 1)

Honorable Mention: Candorville (July 29)

This Week's Poll


Washington: For Molly: Do you think your career choice was influenced, directly or subtly by your dad's softie attitude toward animals? He seems to be devoted to your ol' dog, etc.

Molly Weingarten: No. Compared to my mother, my father is an advocate of napalming bunny rabbits and harvesting their eyeballs for Jell-O. My mother is a great lawyer, but she probably should have been a veterinarian. She talks to squirrels. She has been a major influence on my professional development. I talk to worms.


Georgia: We know that your dad is funny. We even know, from past chats, that Dan is funny. We've heard that Molly has a sense of humor and that your mom has a pleasant laugh. What I want to know is what the funniest thing is that you have experienced as a family. What brought each of you to tears laughing. This may happen a lot to y'all, could you just give us one?


Dan Weingarten: There was one time when the whole family went to New York City for a long weekend. My mother took care of all the details, except for finding the hotel, which was left to my father. After arriving in the city we went to get settled at the hotel he had chosen. (He was very proud of having gotten a really good deal on a room on Riverside Drive!)

My father dropped us off while he went to park. The rest of us went to the check in and found that the lobby was as dingy as a whorehouse. The elevator was about the size of a coffin (maybe a doublewide) and reeked of B.O. The "suite" itself was subdivided into two rooms, separated by a bathroom the size of the elevator. You had to go through the bathroom to get to the second bedroom (I used the term "bedroom" to mean a four-sided room with a mattress). There were windows, but we could not see out them through the grime. We were missing one mattress, until we had found that it was hidden under the bed. But when you'd pull it out, it would be blocking the door, making that "bedroom" a firetrap.

So the three of us voted to leave. We were already walking out of the hotel with our luggage when we met my dad, coming in, after having parked the car. We were laughing and pointing at him. He got huffy, didn't believe it could be that bad, and went up to the room to check it out, calling us oversensitive elitists.

When he came back down, he was laughing, too. We walked to another hotel.


Washington D.C.: Molly or Dan, could you remind us what your mother's full name is? Your dad mentions it from time to time but I just can't seem to remember! Thanks!

Molly Weingarten: Hortense T. Goebbels.

Dan Weingarten: Destinee Juggs.

Molly Weingarten: (Sorry, nice try, but no. We're not biting.)


Washington: At the risk of being the 4,000th person to ask this: What is the secret humor project, Dan?

Dan Weingarten: And yet, somehow you are the first.

I am not allowed to comment on this, probably not even to reveal that I have come up with an idea for a comic strip and am working on it with my father. I draw like Helen Keller, and my father's cartooning makes me look like Watterson, so we are in the process of finding an artist.

I think I said too much.


Flushing, NY: Your continuing discussion of toilets and germs has been very informative. Perhaps you would be interested in my experience this July 4th.

After the fireworks display, my family made our traditional bee-line to Union Station, where we could easily get a seat on the Red line. By the time we arrived (it's a bit of a hike) naturally I had to use the facilities. Of course there was a long line in the men's room, but it was moving (ha!) and amazingly the Union Station staff had done what I considered an excellent job of maintaining a clean facility considering the circumstances.

So I go into a stall to urinate (allowed when there's a line, right?), finish up, and I asked myself "When was the last time this toilet was flushed? Wouldn't it be nice for the next person in here to see a nice, clean bowl?" But I ain't touchin' that handle no way barehanded! I'll use toilet paper to cover my hand...

I grabbed a piece of paper and yanked hard. To my dismay, the whole roll shot off the dispenser and plopped into the bowl (thank gods, no splash!!!). I made things worse, not better! Now, the next person in here will be shocked and disgusted and what if they -don't- need to pee?

So I grabbed a teeny-weeny bit of the sopping roll and lifted it out onto the shelf behind. Needless to say, I scrubbed hard and hot when I got out.

The only upside to this whole event was that I told my wife, who laughed heartily, at least until I started threatening to touch here with the hand I used...

Molly Weingarten: I like your story. It reminds me of something that happened to my brother and me this past Fourth of July.

Dan Weingarten: You can't tell this story. People will hate us. We look like monsters.

Molly Weingarten: But it's true.

Dan Weingarten: Dad would strongly advise against this.

Molly Weingarten: But it's got poop in it.

Dan Weingarten: Good point.

Molly Weingarten: Dan and I went to the mall to see the fireworks. And we got as close as we could, almost to the base of the Monument, where people were standing elbow to elbow. But, strangely, there was one open spot, quite large. When we arrived there, we realized why it was not taken. On the ground, in the middle of the sidewalk, was a humongous deposit of horse poo, about the length, breadth and depth of two Hoover canister-type vacuum cleaners, laid end to end. . This didn't deter us. We happily plopped right down next to it.

For the next few minutes, waiting for the fireworks, we were enjoying our vantage point, speculating on how cool it would be if someone would wade right through the stuff; this was not ordinary ordure. This could have swallowed a shoe.

This was a happenin' sidewalk, with lots of people walking by - so there were many close calls. But no cigar (haha.) And then, from our left ...

Dan Weingarten: This is the bad part.

Molly Weingarten: ... Came a blind woman, tap-tapping with a cane. She was talking on a cell phone, and heading on a direct intercept course for the poo. It was like a scene from a Mel Brooks movie. And Dan and I looked at each other, and we knew, deep in the center of our beings, what we had to do: Nothing. And that is what we did.

I'm sorry. I'm really sorry.

Yes, some actual decent human being stopped her in time.


National Zoo: Molly

In your opinion as a veterinary student and soon to be animal afficionado, what fish, mammal, insect, fungi etc. most resembles your father and why?

Molly Weingarten: The elephant seal

_______________________ The Elephant Seal


Washington, D.C.: Did your dad ever give either of you the "birds and the bees" talk? If so, how weird was it? Or was he able to give you the speech successfully?

Dan Weingarten: "Birds and the bees"? What the heck are you talking about?


Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit: Molly and Dan,

I just finished reading "Chuck Amuck," the autobiography of legendary Looney Tunes cartoonist Chuck Jones. He reminds me so much of your father. Jones had a appreciation for history, high art and sex while having a healthy sense of humor. His detailed analyses of the Looney Tunes personalities are so much like Gene's dissertations on newspaper comics. I can imagine Gene coming up with the idea of adapting Richard Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung" as a vehicle for Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, if Jones hadn't thought of it first. Have you ever read Jones' book?

Dan Weingarten: I'm I huge Loony Toons fan. The title of the book is an ode to "Duck Amuck," one of the best cartoons ever. It's the one where it's just Daffy Duck against a white background, and he's yelling at the cartoonist, who keeps messing with him for his own amusement. At the end, Daffy is more outraged than I've ever seen him before or since, and the camera pans out to show Bugs Bunny sitting at the drafting table. Bugs then delivers the line "Ain't I a stinker?" It's among the first metacartoons, tearing down the third wall, dabbling in ontology. Brilliant.

Dan Weingarten: Er. Make that the "fourth wall."


Going Overboard: Consider the third panel of the July 29 Overboard. Look behind Louie's stool. It appears to be the inside of a refrigerator door. On the second shelf are eggs. But the fridge door is shut. What's going on here?

And, although the freezer door is open, you don't really see the door behind the air billowing out of the freezer. There might be something there, but it's not lit like the non-existent refrigerator door, so it can't be the freezer door.

And, the cold air from the freezer would sink to the ground on a hot summer day, not billow upwards.

And, why do they have a freezer-high stool, anyway? This can't be very useful.

And, if such a high stool were made, wouldn't there be cross-bracing on the legs? Otherwise, it would shear easily.

And, dogs don't even wear earmuffs!

I think I need to go lie down. Overboard ( July 29 )

Dan Weingarten: See this another example of a metacomic ontologically exploring the nature of reality. In fact, rather than questioning the dog's sanity, we may confidently infer that Louie is actually questioning the cartoonist's sanity.


Blacksburg, Va.: Hi Molly! I am also a Molly, and love my name except for the fact that lots of people seem to name their dog by the same name. And love to mention that to me when I introduce myself (and, in some cases, frequently afterwards as well).

Any snappy comebacks that you might recommend, especially for those who insist on reminding you about your special relationship to their darling doggie?

Molly Weingarten: Yes, I heard this just a few thousand times while working at a veterinarian's office. It became a sort of running joke with my co-workers. For some reason, it is always dogs, never cats. My situation is even more extreme. I am a second-generation Molly. I was named after my mother's beloved black Lab.


Washington, D.C.: A plea for Molly:

Hi! I bought a black lab puppy a couple of months ago and on her first trip to the vet he insisted on showing me how to milk her anal glands. This is something I don't need to know. That's why I have a vet. The regular doctor doesn't teach me how to check my grandfather's prostate.

Just remember that people will happily PAY you to milk their dog's anal glands. There's no need for a lesson. Good luck at Cornell.

Molly Weingarten: Man do anal glands blow.

True Story: One of the technicians at the practice I was working at was showing a client and her daughter (a nurse) how to express the anal glands (they requested the lesson). Sometimes, there is unusual pressure within this humble gland. The goop shot out across the room and splattered against the far wall. The clients immediately changed their minds about doing this at home.


Silver Sprong: Molly and Dan, Welcome. First I want to say to Molly, good luck at Vet school. I spent a decade and a half in Ithaca and it's a great town in many ways, but bring Arctic survival gear, and remember--Sunshine is highly overrated.

And if I may, I'd like to use this column, as so often happens, to pass along a question to Berke Breathed, one of your Dad's occasional correspondents. I just noticed the other day that Steve Dallas, resident of Bloom County and the current Opus, shares a name with the character played--excellently--by Marty Milner in the 1957 film "The Sweet Smell of Success." So Berke, coincidence or homage???

Dan Weingarten: Berkeley? Are you out there?

(Note my first-name familiarity with famous cartoonists! I actually once met Mr. Breathed. He was at our house for dinner. I was six months old. I do not recall it all that well, but I'm sure I was impressed.)


gaithersburg, MD: My parents had 8 kids, my dad told me they had decided they were pretty good at it, and decided to have a bunch. Never mind what "it" was. I didn't ask.

Once, we built a ramp about chest high in our back yard. It was about 60 degrees. We had a big truck tire, and persuaded our neighbor ("Buddy") to be first to ride it down. It started down the ramp with him inside and fell straight sideways off; the ramp twisted. He jumped up, and ran straight home without saying a word. It really hurt, you could tell. We quickly hid the evidence, destroying the ramp completely and crept inside like mice in a kitchen.

30 years later, our parents told us how they had stood in the kitchen and watched the whole thing, laughing to tears the whole time. When we came in, they never said a word. FOR 30 YEARS.

Dan Weingarten: See, this is interesting. In this tale, your parents were passive enablers of reckless behavior. That's only bush-league dysfunctional parenting. My father puts your parents to shame.

Back in the winter of '94 when Molly and I were just kids, our father took us out sledding. We went to the neighborhood park, where there where several mild slopes and one ridiculously steep hill that ran straight down into a road. My father called this "Dead Man's Hill," and challenged us to try it.

Molly declined, claiming her back hurt. But no ten year old boy is going to decline a direct macho challenge from his father. So I did it, and therefore I learned that the most dangerous part of this hill was not that it fed directly onto a road, but that immediately before it hit the road, there was a bump the size of a small igloo that would fling you two or three feet in the air. THEN you would land in the road.

When I finished this run, my father congratulated me on my daring, and did not notice that I seemed to be bleeding fairly heavily from my mouth. Fortunately, before he goaded me to do it again, Molly demanded to go home.

So we walked into the house with Molly moaning that her back hurt. I wasn't complaining but my mom could not help notice that I was hemorrhaging all over the floor. She gave my father a dirty look, but he said we were just being babies, and decided he wanted to take a nap. This didn't go over well with my mother, especially since when she cleaned the wound she determined that I had bitten clean through my lower lip. You could see daylight through it.

My father never got his nap. We spent the remainder of the day in the hospital. Plastic surgery was involved. I do not know what happened between my father and my mother afterward, but my dad seemed to be on his best behavior for the longest time.


Hobocken, N.J.: OK, which of you two drove you father crazy more than the other, and what did you do?

Molly Weingarten: Early on, I was the trouble-maker, particularly in restaurants. Mostly because I was the only child around. From about age two on, Dan is the clear winner.


For Molly: There is at least one cat named Molly. Mine! Of course, she was named after a dog...

Molly Weingarten: As my father would say: Noted.


An artist for your comic strip: Well duh, what about Eric what's-his-name, who does your father's columns? Although, I guess he does his own strips, huh?

Dan Weingarten: Now that's an idea...


Poll: That last questions had me laughing out loud at work. Great set-up.

Dan Weingarten: Well, if it is so good and funny, how come most of you are answering it wrong? There's a definite right answer.


Lincolnp, Ark.: From your dad's columns, it's evident that until a few years ago your folks used to live in Bethesda, and now reside on Capitol Hill. Which place do you think is funnier and why?

Molly Weingarten: Clearly, Bethesda is funnier. Everyone rushing around, filled with self-importance and feeling proud of living in Bethesda. Pretension is always funny.


Pittsburgh, PA: The Post did not run Friday's (8/29) Boondocks because of what they call "content issues". Normally, your Dad hates when this happens and doesn't hesitate to comment on it. I was able to access the comic by using Google. I can see why it would have made some readers a bit uncomfortable, but I still would have run it. What do you guys think? Are there comics that your Dad likes that you don't and vice versa?

Dan Weingarten: A lot of people asked about this.

I think this was a mistake to censor this comic. The argument for killing it has to be that the case in question is too recent, and still too raw -- the formula for comedy is tragedy plus time, and there is zero "plus time" component here.

The young woman is probably murdered; had this run months after her body was found, it probably would not have been censored, however it also probably wouldn't have been funny. Why? Because this is not about the crime, at all: it's about the COVERAGE of the crime. And that's the point, and why it should have been published.

Aaron McGruder, I think, is talking about how overcoverage, and hyper-coverage seems to make everything - even real human tragedy - seem trivial and silly. Just like reality TV. (I think he is also making a good racial point: That you never hear about missing women of color - you need the pretty single white female to really crank up the melodrama, and ratings.)

My father generally likes comics more than I do. He demands less of them. I have higher standards. My reaction to many that he finds amusing is "meh."


Upper D.C.: Which adjective best decribes your father: Acerbic, pedantic, scrofulous or lycanthropic?

Dan Weingarten: I think the word you are looking for is "sultry."


Comics, DC: Marvel or DC?

Dan Weingarten: This is going to reveal my Dork Side, but I have to answer this one:

Big X-Men fan, but that's about all when it comes to Marvel. Mostly my loyalty lies with DC, and mostly through Vertigo. They have some great writers, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, and Alan More to name a few. I'm very excited about V for Vendetta.


Columbia, SC: I am reading an e-mail from my girlfriend in which she submits the following:

"Did you read Weingarten update? Gene is wrong about Carolyn. I would tell him but I dunno if you can submit things for the updates, and next week will be little Weingartens. Dude we are Washington Post chat nerds."

How does it make you feel to be known as "little Weingartens," and along the same lines, what do you think of your father's cult following?

Dan Weingarten: I don't mind the following so much. It's the hiding in the bushes that bothers me.

Seriously, I would like to address myself to this phenomenon of you women who like to fling "virtual panties" at my dad. Have you ever MET this man? Or seen a picture of him? Or an illustration? Do you know how he dresses? There's a reason why he became a writer: Lack of options.


Great sibling revenge: I enjoyed the story about Molly locking Dan outside. It reminded me of my friend John (one of the funniest people I know) who, at the age of 11 or 12, was locked out of the house by his older brother. After running around and trying all the doors (which were, of course, locked JUST before John got to them) John turned and shouted to the crew of painters next door, up on ladders painting the window trim, "Help! Help! My retarded brother has locked himself in the house and I'm afraid he'll hurt himself!" His brother opened the door immediately. On another occasion John and this same older brother were in a downtown department store doing some Christmas shopping. The brother was telling John to put that down, and don't touch that, and all the annoying things an older brother tells a younger one when he really wants to get under his skin. John took it for a while, and simply ignored his brother and pretended he didn't know him. Then, in a crowded elevator, he turned to his brother and said, "I don't know who you are, but if you don't stop following me and touching me, I'm going to call the police." This was during the 1960's, and I'm sorry to say that the elevator emptied at the next floor.

Molly Weingarten: True Story. Back in 6th grade home-ec class in Bethesda, we were making decorative pillows or something and I forgot to bring my cotton stuffing in to school with me. So I called my dad (who was working at home on a story that day, in his usual I'm-an-insane-person-writing-a-story state of distraction and dishevelment). And he arrived at the school, wearing a trench coat and several days' growth of beard, looking hollowed eyed and distraught, holding a big bag filled with fluff. This was your basic homeless pedophile look. The teachers didn't let him in. I had to come get the stuff from the lobby.


Richmond, Va.: Hello, Molly and Dan! (And Gene, who I'm sure is nervously updating his resume in the background). Thinking of Gene as a parent reminded me of my grandfather -- he would say "pull my finger," and when we did, he'd pop out his dentures. He found this as funny as we found it frightening. What traumatic jokes did Gene play on you when you were little? Also, a note of condolence for the poster from last week whose boyfriend says "supposably": As one of my co-workers would say, that sounds very "flustrating," but you have, it seems, been showing "exemplarary" patience with him. Hang in there; we're all pulling for you!

Molly Weingarten: I like that version of the classic.


Shave, ME: What's the longest your dad has gone without a mustache (since he first regularly had one) and does he actually look goofier without it?

Dan Weingarten: We've never seen him without a mustache. He grew it at Woodstock, and has never shaved it. He has told us the only way he will ever lose his mustache is through chemotherapy.


New York: This one is for Molly, the future vet.

My roughly 11 year old cat has always been a little crazy. We got him as a kitten, but his mom was a wild cat and he spent one day of his life in the wild before my dad brought him in. So, we kind of blame his weird ways on that. He is your best friend and purring one minute and the next he hisses and takes a swat at you. He doesn't like strangers and when ever someone goes downstairs to feed him he runs down to get there first, hides behind the door and hisses and swats at you from around the corner. He has also bitten the hand the feds him once or twice. He does go outside and takes strolls on occasion, so he's sort of an outdoor cat too. That's just some background.

My dad, who is the primary caregiver and treat distributor, has been away for a week and I'm taking care of the cat. Lately he has been throwing up a lot and acting overly aggressive every time I'm near the fridge. The other day he bit me hard while I was feeding him - harder than ever and it hurt a lot. The area around the bite swelled up pretty quickly, and I after some Internet research on cat bites and the development of a red streak up my entire arm I decided to have it checked out. I was in the hospital for two days (and would have stayed longer if I didn't beg them to let me out). Anyway when my dad gets home we are taking him to the vet, but any clue what's wrong? Have you ever heard stories about cats being this crazy in they have mental illnesses? I'm sort of pissed at the cat but I don't want him to die.

Sorry that was long but I figure I'd take the opportunity to ask a pet medical question since your dad is always answering human ones.

Oh and beware of cat bites when you become a vet, which I'm sure you already know.

Molly Weingarten: I'm not a vet yet, so I can't give you professional advice. (Of course, my father is not a doctor, and that doesn't stop him from dispensing complicated diagnoses and other quackeries.)

However, after working in a vet clinic for a year, I have to say I am not yet comfortable with cats; however domesticated they may appear, they all seem to have, somewhere within, ready to erupt under stress, a feral streak. I have scars all over my hands to attest to this.

Public service announcement: CAT BITES ARE VERY VERY BAD; once you are bitten, you need to see a doctor immediately and probably get on antibiotics. People lose their hands that way.

At the vet clinic in Denver, I and another tech were putting an IV catheter into a cat; she was inserting the IV, I was restraining the cat using a new super-spiffy device called an "air muzzle," which looked like a spaceman helmet that went over the cat's head. We were all excited because we had just found this device and were eager to try it out. Everything went splendidly for about two seconds, at which point the cat extricated himself from the muzzle through the complex maneuver of popping his head out of it. At this point, he - I am using a clinical vet term here -- went apesh**. The door to the examination room was open. We techs had been warned, in no uncertain terms, that one must not permit a scared cat to escape into the rest of the clinic, because escaped cats will climb walls, inhabit rafters, get lost in basements, haunt air ducts, etc. So, having only an instant to make a decision, I held on to whatever part of the cat I could grab. This further terrified the cat.

What followed was very, very bad. The cat began to howl and screech. My partner and I - roughly 220 pounds of woman meat, combined - were no match for six pounds of insane cat. I wound up with multiples scratches and bites, but my partner had fangs sunk deep into the flesh of her thumb. My point is -- we both were hustled to the hospital. Vets take no chances with cat bites. My partner had your basic scary red streak, and was on IV antibiotics all night.

Cat bites: Bad.


Boston, Mass.: Are you guys heathen Yankee fans too?

Molly Weingarten: Yes. Are you a sniveling, snot-nosed Red Sox fan?


Hunh?: Can you explain the ink on Jason's face in the last frame of Monday's Foxtrot?

Dan Weingarten: Peter has spit his Coke on Jason's face. A spit take, off camera.


Dad of Future Embarrassed Child, S. Spring, MD: Hi guys. Great picture. My question is for Molly, because I have a two-year-old daughter. We love playing games, doing goofy dances together, etc. The day in our lives that I most fear, even more than the day she starts dating, is the day that she become embarrassed to be seen with me in public. (This actually may turn out to be the same day, now that I think of it.)

Molly, your dad is a LOT goofier than I'll ever be, and yet, judging from the limited evidence his chats and columns, he seems to have a pretty good relationship with you (although Gene may be an unreliable narrator). My question is, did you go through periods when you were embarrassed of your Dad, and how did you get past it? Do you have any advice on how to minimize the mortal embarrassment a Dad causes to his daughter (apart from the extreme, such as disappearing completely from her life from the first day of sixth grade through her wedding rehearsal dinner)? Thanks.

Molly Weingarten: My father embarrassed me all the time, profoundly, but he did it deliberately, and in a funny way. His behavior in restaurants, with waiters, at my expense, could fill a chapter in a book on embarrassing kids. For instance, he'd get up in the aisle at Johnny Rocket's, and dance spastically to bad 50s tunes, and then point to me and say "I'm with her."

The thing is, it was DELIBERATE, which means it was a joke, and I was in on the joke. That sort of thing doesn't distance you from a parent; it does the opposite.


Silver Spring, Md.: Have either of you ever fessed up to some naughty or embarrassing deed to your parents?

Molly Weingarten: I am constantly doing embarrassing things. The most recent of which was, um, yesterday. My object lessons tend to always be the same: Being a smartass can backfire.

As far as fessing up, I guess I am doing it right now.

For the first time in years, I wanted to buy something on ebay, but I couldn't remember my ebay moniker. So I tried to create a new ID for myself. I tried all the obvious permutations of my name, but all were taken. The bidding war was escalating and time was quickly ticking by. I needed a name, fast, but I wanted something I would remember the next time, so it couldn't be simple gibberish. I kept trying things, only to learn they were not available, right down to complete hero-worshipy idiocies, such as (Christopher) "WalkenLover." Taken! I was getting unbelievably frustrated at the computer, and at ebay, and at my inability to find a single available ID, so I typed in something really really, really, really gross, just for my own entertainment, just to be funny and outrageous, and then ... I must have hit the "Enter" key.

Ebay cheerfully informed me that this was not, in fact, taken, and congratulated me on my new identity. It creates a person no one in his right might would do business with. I could not use it to bid. Ebay does not permit you to change your ID for a month, so, for the next 30 days, when I sign on to ebay, I will be greeted with: "Hello, ilovetoeatmyown[poo]!"


Cornell? : finish this ditty: High above Cayuga's waters, there's an awful smell...

Molly Weingarten: Some say it's Cayuga's waters/We say it's Cornell.


Alexandria, Va: I also have a cat named Molly after a dog.

Molly Weingarten: Excellent!


Detrit, usa: Does Gene go psycho when a deadline approaches?

Molly Weingarten: Is the sky blue?


Alexandria, Va.: I've got a question for Molly. For some reason, this has been bugging me ever since I read your dad's update. Your dad reported that you told him "I do not touch toilets." That came across sounding way too squeamish for an aspiring veterinarian. (Of course, everything I know about being a vet I learned from James Herriot). Did you really mean it like it sounded? If so, are you planning on having maid service when you leave home, or have you resigned yourself to a lifetime of filthy toilets? Thanks for clearing things up!

Molly Weingarten: Believe it or not, I have taken a lot of flak for this comment. Sooooo, at the risk of sounding totally weird, here is my real answer. Animal poop and secretions do not bother me. Anal glands, festering wounds, explosive diarrhea (from animals), none of these bothers me. But toilets---ew. Is this saying that I like animals more than people? I am not ready to admit that yet.


For Chatwoman: Hi,

Could you please re-post the generic link that will take you to the weekly chats? I bookmarked last week's chat but of course it will change weekly. The WP Web site can be a pain to negotiate in regards to finding the prior/current chats. Thanks! Here you go: " The Weekly Archives (If you want to find them on your own, just visit the top of each week's discussion page and to the right of the page - under the Live Online schedule - there's a box titled "The Archives." Also, you can visit the Live Online main page , scroll down the right side of the page to the "Regular Hosts" drop-down box and choose "Weingarten." I hope that helps!

Dan Weingarten: A PSA.


Perfect woman, Va.: Dan,

Since your pops ain't here, this one goes to you.

My girlfriend has enthusiastically agreed to go see the Aristocrats with me knowing full well that it may possibly be the filthiest movie of all time. My question is, do I marry her right now or after we see the show and get her reactions?

Dan Weingarten: Oh, you REALLY want to wait for the reaction. Marriage is a serious commitment. You don't want to screw this up.

I will say, it is encouraging that she is willing to drive to New York to see it.


re: Comics: "My father generally likes comics more than I do. He demands less of them. I have higher standards. My reaction to many that he finds amusing is "meh." "

So, Dan, can you give us an example of a strip that is regularly up to your standards? Or even a one-off example?

Dan Weingarten: Fuzzy. Often Pearls, but not always. Same with Foxtrot. Rhymes With Orange, often.


Dan Weingarten: Okay, get ready, because the definitive poll answers are coming up.


Dan Weingarten: Here they come....


Dan Weingarten: Here are the correct poll answers:

Question One: No, the funniest is not the Mickey Mouse cartoon, even though it is most enlightening: It DOES explain an unexplained mystery about comics history: Why - although he is an animal, just like the other characters -- Pluto never speaks. Clearly, he speaks only French.

The German cartoon is the least funny, because the Sabrina characters are so familiar, and the context so cliched, and the storyline so evident, that the irony of this being in German is practically meaningless. Though German is a funny looking language.

The funniest is the Italian. No explanation should be necessary. Visual anarchy is hilarious, and these images are spectacular. Humor doesn't have to be linear or logical.

Question Two:

This is an almost-good strip - good concept, good punch line -- that becomes a little stupid because of huge problems in execution. Mrs. Olsen has just had hip replacement surgery. She is using a walker. Are we to believe that she raced around the back of the house more quickly than Caulfield, who is racing at kid speed? (And, oh yes, she did supposedly make this trip, because the walker is repositioned.)

More awfulness: Is Caulfield going to stay where he is, to be drenched by the unseen oscillating showerhead? No! He cannot see his handiwork from there. Once he has turned on the spigot, he is going to peek around the corner of the house, where he will be away from the epicenter of the oscillating showerhead - probably even beyond the reach of the one hole facing partially in his direction. Water in a garden hose is impelled at approximately 40 pounds per square inch, meaning it travels at approximately twelve feet per second , meaning Caulfield will have ample time to move - AND HE WILL MOVE - before the water hits. He will not be drenched; most likely he won't even be dampened.

So the correct answer was good idea, bad execution, good punchline. The punchline -- Caulfield's grudging admiration for Mrs. Olsen -- is excellent.

Question 3: The correct answer, of course, was the third one. Though I would have chosen the fourth, maybe.

I don't understand why you guys took this seriously and actually seemed to be trying to compare the degrees of awfulness. This wasn't intended to be taken seriously. The question was absurdist, and sort of political satire. The only right answer was the most absurd one. The one with a political point.

Here is what is interesting: Even in a nonsense poll like this, where no answer has any real meaning and so all are equally ridiculous, and no answer needs to be justified or explained, almost none of you are being REALLY subversive and outrageous and choosing the last answer. Cowards.


Lansing, Mich.: OK, you're getting two questions from me at once because my computer's fighting with me. Answer either or both...

Molly: Any advice for picking an appropriate pet name? We have acquired yet another cat (after putting one of our two 17-year-old cats to sleep a month ago - his ashes are now in a box in our linen closet, which was one of his favorite spots), and we're at a loss.

Dan: Are you really going to pick on Sunday's "Frazz"? You're on a first-name basis with Jef! He sent your family a Christmas card!

Molly Weingarten: Use a name that means something to you or is funny. I always like human names for pets. One lady brought in her old cat named "Gladys." I loved that name. PLEASE do NOT name them something like Poopsie for Precious. Vets make fun of you for that (behind your back, of course). A really good name: John.

Dan Weingarten: Hey, tough love. Humor is a harsh mistress.


Pennsylvan, IA: Molly, I graduated from Penn in 2002. In fact, my last name is very similar to yours, and if one tried to find me in the student directory, your name would come up as well.

Anyway, what was the funniest (either intentionally or unintenionally) class you took there?

Molly Weingarten: "Body Fluid Regulation." Man, what a scream.


Bethesda, Md.: Today's ' Piranha Club ' is one step away from greatness -- delete the third panel and replace the second with a repeat of the first. Much funnier, IMO.

Dan Weingarten: It's better. I wouldn't call it GREAT.


Washington, D.C.: Dan,

I have an actual didjeridoo, as well. Want to jam?

Dan Weingarten: I see, unlike my father, that you actually spelled it right. Give me time to rehearse; I got mine yesterday.


Iowa: Dan, in your list of favorite comics, you didn't mention Doonesbury which your dad holds in high esteem. Is is too much of a baby boomer-based comic to appeal to you?

Dan Weingarten: I love Doonesbury. I just forgot it in my answer.


New York, N.Y.: Is divorce warranted if the wife walked out of the Aristocrats after 10 minutes?

Dan Weingarten: Divorce would be hasty, but a trial separation might be in order.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Molly! I lived in Philly for 2 years so had to say Go Penn! Although I was glad to get out of that city, honestly - they stole one car, broke into the other one, and it was just not very pleasant all around. But some great places to eat downtown that I do still miss. Did you ever go to Macomb's Kitchen? Little crunchy organic place with board games and the best sandwiches...

Molly Weingarten: Yeah, I don't think I would ever move back to Philly. My boyfriend's car was actually eaten by rats. (They chewed through all the wiring and the hoses)


Poopingreen, GA: So, Molly, do you think you'll ever find a guy who is as funny looking and willing to tell you poop jokes as your dad?

what if he weren't so scatahumoroligically gifted, but, he was say, I dunno, a med student?

Molly Weingarten: I'm actually dating someone, but I don't think it is working out too well, Jeremy.


Olney, Md.: Dan, what do ya think is going on with Fuzzy? In the last couple of strips, Satchel has been smart-mouthin' Bucky. That's like the sun setting in the east......

Dan Weingarten: Yeah, I have noticed that. It is a little weird. It is like Darby has some sort of brain lesion.


Washington, D.C.: One of my mom's oldest friends named her dog after me--first, middle, and last name -- which I found out recently has ticked my mom off soundly for the last 30 years.

I told her that, knowing the friend's love of dogs, and being a dog-obsessive myself, it was actually quite a compliment. She said, "Oh." And it doesn't bother her anymore.

Molly Weingarten: My father once had a couch he named Charles K. Bernstein. No, I don't understand him, either.


Aristocrats Girlfriend: Dan:

There is no need to drive to New York to see the Aristocrats. It will be showing in DC starting August 12.

Molly Weingarten: I'll just put this out there as a PSA.


Aristocratic Marriage: I say that guy should wait to hear her version of the joke.

Dan Weingarten: This is a very good point.


G'burg, MD: Molly, congrats on getting into Cornell. As a former Cornellian and resident of upstate NY I have 2 words of advice: Good boots. Get something you can walk through a foot of snow in or worse, wet, salty slush, without getting your feet wet. And go to the Dairy Bar and get ice cream. Fresh made by the Aggies, it's the best around. My roommate and I would buy a quart of buttle brickle about every week- and ordinarily I don't even like that flavor much, but Cornell's was incredible. Worth the walk- or grab a red bus- there used to be stop right at the Bar.

Molly Weingarten: Yes, I had to just invest in two different types of boots. The main problem is not mud, but wading through cow poop. Vet school, here I come!


Molly Cat: We, too, have a cat named Molly (sorry). But when we got her, we had the choice of taking either of the two female kittens in the litter: Molly or Charlotte. The kids (ages 3 and 8 at the time) wanted Charlotte, so we asked our friend who was picking up the kitten for us, to bring us Charlotte. At the last minute, the kids decided they really wanted Molly. So we did what any parent would do: we told them she was Molly. They kept wondering why all her "stuff" said Charlotte, but never caught on. Oops. Hope they're not reading this...

Molly Weingarten: This is funny.


le cubicle de Gene: Ever steal any pens from Dad's desk at work?

Dan Weingarten: Stealing pens from my father is dangerous. He chews and sucks on them. If they have a fuselage, it will be filled with saliva.


Parano, IA: Has Gene ever directed his (former) hypochondria towards the two of you? What's the worst diagnose he's come up with for what was actually benign? Did he frighten you?

Molly Weingarten: I had swollen optic nerves. My dad was sure that I had a brain tumor. It turns out that I have large optic nerves.


Virginia: So, are you two sitting at the same computer, taking turns? Or are you each at your own computer, being sent different questions? -And, Molly, just to reassure you, I am a 20-something who (hearts) your father, but in the I-wish-my-dad-was-more-like-Gene-and-less-like-a-complete-jerk kind of way.]

Dan Weingarten: We are sitting in my father's grungy office, which is 9 feet by six feet with no window, working on two separate computers.


Cornell Vet: You're a vet, but does your compassion extend to the point of vegitarianism?

Molly Weingarten: Yes.


Humbled in Bryson Elementary: Hey, hey, hey. Do you go to James Bond movies and say, "Now, wait a minute ..."? The implausibility is the essence.

And this just after you endorsed visual anarchy for the previous question. Now I'm confused. But not, surprisingly, that defensive. I'll take two out of three.

But enough about me. I want to agree with another point you made: You're so right about Candorville. That strip is really coming into its own.

Jef, with whom Dan shares the mistress

Dan Weingarten: Hi, Jef. Wait, are you saying you made this DELIBERATELY implausible?


Oldsville: "Here is what is interesting: Even in a nonsense poll like this, where no answer has any real meaning and so all are equally ridiculous, and no answer needs to be justified or explained, almost none of you are being REALLY subversive and outrageous and choosing the last answer. Cowards."

Um, Dan, maybe this just reflects the fact that I'm 41 instead of 21, but it is actually not cowardly to refuse to answer a question that is just plain pointless. You think it would be funny, or even "subversive and outrageous" to choose the redneck ignoramus response. Twenty years from now you will think it a waste of your time.

Having said that, I will share my amazement that so many people bothered to answer the question at all and yet chose the least offensive answer.

Dan Weingarten: I seriously doubt that 20 years from now I will be thinking about a poll question I wrote at 21.


None of my, business: Molly,

Who's paying for vet school, you or your parents, Gene & what's-her-name?

Molly Weingarten: I am, actually. Over the next 30 years or so.


Washington, DC: What do you think your parents would do if either of you wanted a big, lavish wedding?

Dan Weingarten: My father has already told us: They'd offer us a generous cash wedding present, or a wedding, and let us choose.

Do you realize how diabolical this is?


Washington, D.C.: What was your mother's reaction when Gina kissed your father on TV?

Dan Weingarten: She didn't care. You do not understand our mother.


Dan's poll roc, KS: I have never made 100 on your dad's poll but I got all of your questions right! Does this mean your dad is smarter than you because he creates more difficult polls, or are you smarter because this is the first poll in this chat that made any sense?

Dan Weingarten: We'll have a poll to determine that.


Iowa: Thanks for the chat, Molly and Dan! I see why your dad is so proud of you--you're obviously smart, funny, and quick-witted.

Molly Weingarten: Thank you all for your great questions. This was a lot of fun. On behalf of Dan and me, good-bye.


UPDATED 8.03.05

Gene Weingarten: Okay, Weingarten pere is back. Emails suggest the need for two clarifications from yesterday:

1. No, Molly was not using the chat to break up with her boyfriend! Mol may be one tough cookie, but she is no ice maiden. She was merely indicating to Jeremy that she knew he was the poster, and was on to his little game. They are, and remain, a major item.

2. Yes, I agree with Dan on that last question in the poll, and, no, I don't think it was offensive (This Week's Poll). I think it was a brilliant question, and was as mystified as he was that so few of you seemed to "get" it. To me the question was clearly satirical -- a statement about the silliness of the flag-burning debate -- and it demanded a silly, absurdist answer. Neither Dan nor I could understand why a sizeable majority of you decided you were supposed to actually weigh which theoretical monster was worse -- a homosexual, pedophile flag-burner, or a Satan-worshipping, serial rapist flag burner. This was an inane comparison. I would have answered "African-Americans and people of the Jewish faith," just to be completely perverse and anarchic (and also because there was a delicious collision between the noxiousness of that answer and the politically correct way it was phrased.) But the double flag burner answer was also valid.

Honestly, I'd like to hear some of you defend or explain answering A or B.


One sharp reader noticed a difference between the Washington Post version of my column on Sunday, and the version carried in her local newspaper. She wondered if political correctness had intervened in one version or another. The answer is more benign than that, but also more complicated; it does offer an insight into just how bizarre the editing process can be, sometimes.

This was the column of doggerel surrounding recent news events in Washington (News to a Muse ... (Post Magazine, July 31)). 

The first thing you need to know is that I got this column in very late, substituting it for a column I had already written (I wanted the news to be as fresh as possible.) The next thing that happened was that, at the very last minute, Bush surprised everyone by naming his court pick, meaning that the Supreme Court poem, as I wrote it, had to be changed. I had to rewrite it from present tense into past tense, so it did not seem as though we thought the job was still open. This was complex, because it changed a lot of rhymes. At this point, the column became really late -- breaking deadline by a day. Everyone at the magazine hated me, for good reason.

The stanza in question, as I had written and amended it, read as follows: "Jews wanted a Jew, Jains wanted a Jain, / And Muslims, one of their own. / There were immigrant lobbies for natives of Spain, /Morocco and Sierra Leone.

This made it through several tiers of harried editors, until, at the very last moment, waaaaay past deadline, eagle-eyed editor Susannah Gardiner realized that "Jain" is pronounced "gyne," which foiled the entire rhyme.

Frantically, with deadline blown to smithereens and no time to think, I changed the line to "Jews wanted a Jew, Danes wanted a Dane," which kept the rhyme, but wasn't all that terrific. (I was intending this stanza to start out talking about religion, not nationality. "Danes" just wasn't elegant.)

After the column was changed for the Post, I realized that the Washington Post Writers group, which syndicates the column, has later deadlines. Therefore I had time to rethink it.

And that is why the rest of the country got the stanza as follows: Jews wanted a Jew, Taoists a Tao / And Muslims one of their own. / There were lobbies for natives of Guineau-Bissau, / Morocco, and Sierra Leone.

So now you know. Wasn't that boring? My kids weren't that boring.


Oakland, Calif.: I know that this is Molly and Dan's chat, but does Gene want to weigh in about the Post not printing the Boondocks from last week and the controversy at the Miami Herald (his old employer)?

Gene Weingarten: I agree with Dan that Boondocks should have been printed, and I agree with his reason why.

The events at the Miami Herald are completely disheartening to me, as a journalist. A very brief summary: Great metro columnist is fired after he disclosed to his bosses that he secretly tape recorded two distraught phone calls he got from a disgraced local politician who, a short time afterwards, blew his brains out in The Herald lobby. In Florida (unlike most states) it is illegal to secretly record a phone conversation. Whether or not it was technically against the law in this case is not entirely clear, since the law is not entirely clear. It was against the paper's internal policy (The Post's, too.)

The columnist, Jim DeFede, was the one who disclosed the taping, to his editors, and admitted it was a mistake -- a mistake that, to many journalists, including me, is understandable, made in the middle of an extremely tense situation. He wanted a record of what was being said, because it sounded, in essence, like he was being witness to a suicide note. The paper fired him anyway, accompanied by blustery, self-serving public statements about maintaining the highest standards of journalism, responsibility to the readers, and whatnot. Very few people at the Herald thought this was right, or even defensible. Most -- near as I can tell -- thought it very, very suspicious and cowardly.

Problem: Jim DeFede was a major thorn in the side of the powers that be at the Miami Herald, because he had been forthright (in his role as metro columnist) about how disappointed he was that the Herald was no longer the great paper it used to be; he had written that shortsighted cost-cutting by the parent Knight-Ridder Corp. had resulted in a hemorrhage of talent from the Herald and reader-hurtful restrictions in what the paper covers. He had also angered the local Cuban-American community, which wields enormous political and economic clout, by going to Cuba and reporting (evenhandedly) about life there. The crime, as they saw it, was simply going to Cuba and thus supposedly legitimizing the Castro regime. This is a subject about which, in Miami, coherent and calm dialogue cannot exist.

The point is, it sure looks to a lot of people as though the firing of DeFede was a shabby pretext by a cowardly newspaper editor and a pandering publisher. I do not believe The Post would fire a reporter who did the same thing, under the same extraordinary circumstances.

There is a petition on the web urging the Herald to reconsider this decision, signed as of today by more than 500 journalists, including dozens at the Herald and many dozen more Herald alumnae, including me. (Also, some real journalistic luminaries, including Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, and Walker Lundy, a revered senior journalist who has been executive editor of three Knight-Ridder Newspapers.


UPDATED 8.04.05

Pittsburgh, Pa.: "They'd offer us a generous cash wedding present, or a wedding, and let us choose"

Choose the wedding. Gene will then offer to increase the generous cash present, just in the hope that you will cave and take the money.

Gene Weingarten: Nope. Nor would they expect that.


Re: Desire: Question for Gene, but maybe Molly can back me up here.

Gene, last week you endorsed the following chiasmus as "true": "The desire of the man is for the woman. But the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man."

I'm confused. Did I miss a joke? (Is the final "desire" supposed to be a euphemism for Parts That Shall Not Be Named?) Are you testing us? Or do you have certain insecurities you might want to work on? (You must know that someone, sometime, has desired you, not your desire.)

Sure, plenty of women are insecure enough that they worry more about their partner's passion than their own. But some men are that way, too. And most people get past this with a little experience and maybe a question or two to Hax.

Evidence of women's desire is everywhere. Suppose Brad Pitt owes his career to his acting skills? Speaking of Hax, she's said that she gets plenty of complaints from frustrated women who desire their partners but aren't getting any action. (Yeah, her readers' sex ratio is skewed, but stil.) Listen to some of the early Beatles concerts and try to translate those delirious screams in the background. What do they sound like to you: "I wish some Beatle would desire me," or "I want to get in Paul's pants"?

Gene Weingarten: You didn't miss a joke, but you missed the point. Men want to possess the woman. Women want men to want to possess them; they want to be desired. Men are voyeurs, women exhibitionists. There are a million permutations and manifestations of this basic fact. Including that men want sex and women want love. This is generally speaking, though, and speaking generally never satisfies anyone.

Some smart woman once said "It is not enough to be loved. I want to be preferred." Same sort of notion, no?


Durham, N.C.: I just had to pass along a link to what just might be the greatest headline ever:

Gene Weingarten: I am trying to decide whether this was intentional or not. I'm thinking yes, but hoping no. It is just fabulous, though.


Rebu, KE: I'm sure you'll get inundated with the following, but I'd like to know why she called you Jean. Perhaps your kids have some insight, if appropriate:

Rockville, Md.: I'm sure you've gotten about 19 billion questions on this, but: in Gene's chat on Tuesday, your name came up as someone who thinks having a mom (parent?) stay home is best (your column from July 4, 1999). Would you say your opinion has changed since having kids, or your reasons why people work versus stay home?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, some of you guys tipped me off about that, thanks. Jean misrepresented my position when he used stay-at-home mom instead of stay-at-home parent, but he got the rest of it right--for 1999. My opinion has definitely evolved since then, but not necessarily since having kids. I'd get into exactly what has changed and why, buuuuut ... I already did so for an anthology of essays that's not due out till spring, and if I scoop it here, that wouldn't be a great way to score points with the editor, Leslie Morgan Steiner, or the publisher. Discussion Transcript: Tell Me About It (July 29)

Gene Weingarten: She called me Jean because I mistakenly called her "Caroline."


UPDATED 8.05.05

Gene Weingarten: Good morning. Two pieces of old business --

I heard from Berkeley Breathed, who says that the 1957 Martin Milner character of the same name had nothing to do with the creation of his "Steve Dallas." Steve Dallas was birthed when Berkeley was a cartoonist at the University of Texas; the character appeared in Berkeley's strip "Academia Waltz," and he was intended to parody a certain kind of campus frat boy, most of whom seemed to come from Dallas.

Secondly, if you are out there, will the girlwoman from Ms. Cherry's Latin class please email me at Molly missed your posting during her chat, and would like to contact you.


The Hague, The Netherlands: Hi Gene, I heart you so I'm sorry to say you are incorrect in the following statement about "eating European":

"Gene Weingarten: Fork in left hand. Knife in right hand. Or vice versa. No switching or crossover. A superior system I never mastered. "

It is never vice versa. You almost always have your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right. The only exception is if you are not using two utensils. This even applies to southpaws.


Gene Weingarten: I have seen European lefties switch it, though this raises the same question raised by the conundrum of how lefties should play a guitar. Get a lefty guitar, or adapt? I used to think that the standard guitar FAVORED lefties, since when you are a guitar novice, it is much harder to nail chords than to strum. Then I realized that once you get any guitar proficiency, it is harder to strum-pick than to hit the chords.

And I gather than lefties are split almost evenly over whether to re-string, or adapt.

Same with knife and fork. Which operation requires the greater dexterity, do you think?


Fanning the Flag Flames: Token right-winger here. I'm trying - really, I am - but frankly, I just don't get the red-stater angst over flag-burning. Yeah, it's obnoxious, but if we outlaw obnoxiousness, we're gonna have to build a BUNCH more jails for all you bleeding-heart lefties. (Not that this would be a bad thing, but it would probably raise my taxes, don't you see.)

At the same time, I do recognize that flag-burning is highly offensive to some people - especially those who have fought and/or lost loved ones in the defense of that which the flag represents.

So the only reasonable argument I can see - and it's a stretch - is the "hate speech" argument. Which of course doesn't beg the question (why wasn't "begging the question" on your list of amendment proposals?), where do you stand on hate speech, Gene? Should it be protected by your favorite ammendment? If not - what differentiates burning the flag from hate speech? (I think there is a difference, but I'm not sure it's the same line you'll draw. And either way, I'm curious about your answer to part one of the question.)

Gene Weingarten: Well, see, you are raising a very good point. Why would flag-burning be any different from some guy standing on a soap box and saying that America is a hateful, horrible country and we deserved 9/11?

I think we all agree such a person is a schmuck. But I doubt if too many Americans would say he has no right to say it, and propose a Constitutional Amendment to outlaw the saying of "The United States deserved 9/11." Somehow, people would recognize this as being permissible, if obnoxious.

What's the difference? A piece of cloth?

I consider the speech, in this case, MUCH more offensive.

Or what about Amiri Baraka, that idiot N.J. poet laureate who wrote that noxious poem claiming that Jews stayed home from work at the twin towers on 911? No one proposed throwing him in jail, nor should they have.

No, you react by ignoring, shunning, speaking ill of, such a person. You don't amend the constitution to make speech illegal, even horrible speech.

Hate speech? I would not outlaw it unless it was an incitement to riot. Then, it is more than speech.


Two plus two does not equal four!: Gene, I know you won't be around this week, but I just had to share.

Eating European - it's me with the question again. I have spent this past weekend in an identity daze. You have just enlightened me to a truth that lifts so much off my shoulders. I just realized, with your help, that all my life I have been "eating European". Because of this my unorthodox habit, I have been castigated, questioned, maligned, and pretty much boo-hooed at various dinner functions.

The one question I get asked the most is, "aren't you right-handed?" Why, yes, I am. I write with my right hand, I throw with my right hand -and catch, which makes playing softball excruciating], I use chop sticks with my right hand, and I tap the keyboard space bar with my right thumb. But give me a fork and it automatically goes left. I have always said that I do everything mechanical with my right hand, including utilizing the all-important dinner knife. So, to me, it was natural for the fork to go left. But I now know the true reason. The reason that has turned my weekend into a marvel of self-reflection and awe.

I am secretly European.

I don't think my parents will take this very well. But I did hear a rumor that my dad is naturally left-handed but was "1984"-ed into using his right. This gives me hope.

Thankew, Gene.

Gene Weingarten: I was initially left-handed. My parents kept transferring things from left to right, until I did it on my own. They told me that I was switched within days, though, so I don't think I was strong hardwired and don't hate them for it. I think.


Question for P the P: So I was listening to gym music and "YMCA" came on and I think it has a rather glaring grammatical error:

"No man, cared if I were alive..."

The use of "were" puts the clause in the subjunctive which seems wrong given that the singer cleary is (or was) alive. Am I wrong here?

Gene Weingarten: Well, yes. This is a grammatical error, but hardly a grievous one, considering the vast canon of rock song egregiousness out there.

The worst has to be the Doors, "stars fall from the sky / for you and I!" simply because that last line is sung so forcefully.

Dylan may be the only one with an egregiousness right in a title: "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Crying.)"


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