Chatological Humor* (UPDATED 9.2.05)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 30, 2005; 12:00 PM

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

DAILY UPDATES: 8.31.05 | 9.1.05 | 9.2.05

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 .

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 .

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

Yesterday, the day after I surprised my wife with a 25th Anniversary column, she fell on a stairwell at work, bonked her head, and had to go to the hospital for stitches. In the emergency room, when she got a shot of lidocaine, I observed that she was a "numbskull." This morning, I accused her of being a "sorehead." Haha. Do you see what a source of endless joy it is to be married to me?

Okay, several important news items. Reader Russell Pittman reports this: "A couple of weeks ago I visited Bali for the 1st time. I toured several Hindu temples there and was astonished to find the same sign at the entrance of each: 'Your attention please: During menstruation ladies are strictly not allowed to enter the temple. Thank you.'"

Russell and I both wonder how this is enforced.

Kate Jones reports this, though she is unsure of the provenance:

According to a radio report, a middle school in Oregon was faced with a unique problem. A number of girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints.

Finally, the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the custodian. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night. To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance guy to clean one of the mirrors. He took out a long handled squeegee, dipped it into the toilet and then cleaned the mirror.

Since then there have been no lip prints on the mirrors.

And lastly, from Bruce Friedrich of PETA, this fabulous photo of a bus in a Portuguese-speaking country. It is asking people to cross at crosswalks.

Today's poll was based on an idea from Horace LaBadie. Man, you guys are screwing it up so far. I will have an elaborate explanation of why you are wrong midway through.

A very poor comic week. My CPOW is yesterday's Curtis , which is by far the best use of the Dagwood conceit so far. And I must direct you to today's FBOFW , in which I believe we have the very first comics appearance of Maxi Pads, and to yesterday's Boondox , which contains an extremely rude joke that whizzed right by all them middle aged white editors around the country.

Okay, let's go.

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Gene Weingarten:

Ooh, I just received a communication the likes of which I have never seen. In 33 years as a journalist, I have encountered people who were real sticklers about quotations: Insisting they be read back before okaying their use, etc. And I have encountered people who were quite blase about the whole thing. But I never encountered this. It is exciting.

For an upcoming column, I emailed a prominent theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, told him who I was, and that I wanted to quote him on a "matter of grave importance to no one." I asked him to phone me.

I received this communique in return, which I quote here verbatim:

"I am speaking in Ireland right now, and cannot easily call you.But you have my permission to quote me, as long as it is in fun, and not in any way derogatory."

WOW!

I'm going to take him up on it!

"I am persuaded beyond reasonable doubt that the universe was created approximately 18,000 years ago," renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku told the Washington Post Tuesday, "in a sudden release of matter and energy caused by the flatulence of an enormous extra-celestial sea lion named Rufus P. Dufus."

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Opus: Did you notice all of the suggestive art in Sunday's Opus? The trees and the bird's beak (or is that a frog?) on the shorts.

washingtonpost.com: Opus , ( Aug. 28 )

Gene Weingarten: Well, not until you just showed me.

I don't see anything on the shorts, but that tree is obvious.

So. In one week, an arboreal naked babe, that R Kelly joke, Maxi Pads, AND the following:

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Get Fuzzy: Someone made a comment in an comics-discussion group about what was whispered in the Aug. 14 strip. "shove" "up" and "your" are pretty clear...

And now I see there will be a "Get Fuzzy" movie in 2006. Can't picture that, frankly.

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

Gene Weingarten: Could be. Have we ever noted here how much Bucky resembles a penis? Check out that last panel.

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McLean, Va.: Maybe a bit geeky for a good aptonym but the tech guy at my son's school is named "Doss." His wife, I suppose, is Ms Doss.

Gene Weingarten: Not bad at all, actually.

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Centreville, Va.: As an female Indian, yes, we can't go to temple while on our periods. The temple people don't enforce it, it's just something You Don't Do. Self-enforced. Or in my case, parent enforced.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting. Thanks.

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Gay Characters in New TV Seas, ON: Today's article says there are only 16 gay characters in network TV. Are there any gay characters are in the comics? (Besides Marcie and Peppermint Patti)

Gene Weingarten: Well, lessee. Steve Dallas was gay, but Berkely sort of wussed out and had him converted via electrode-to-the-genital treatments.

There is a gay character in FBOFW, and of course Mark Slackmeyer and his sweetie, on Doonesbury. So, sure. I suspect I am missing some.

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Hotda, MN: The lipstick on the mirror is an old one -- though I haven't heard it being location specific -- that's been kicking around in e-mails for years.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I feared that.

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Laurel, Md.: I heart this week's column to your wife. I, too, have a husband with only one check in his wallet, but he's unclear as to why this is a good thing. We've only got three years under our belt, but I will already be putting the bar pretty high for our 25th. Hard to top a declaration of love to the entire readership of The Post Magazine (plus the whole syndication deal).

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: The Nine of Hearts , ( Post Magazine, Aug. 28 )

Gene Weingarten: When kids arrive, you will discover that 25 years go by in a heartbeat. Seriously.

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That Lipstick Thing: It's been on the 'net since 1997. Dunno if it's true or not.

washingtonpost.com: Neither is Snopes .

Gene Weingarten: Good, then.

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Orlando, Fla.: Are there right and wrong answers to this poll, and do you consider yourself to be the perfect judge of right answers?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, and yes.

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Political Cartoons: Something I have noticed about my and others' reactions to political cartoons that will probably show up in your poll. Most political cartoons take a strong political position. If the reader is of the same camp, he will more often find the cartoon both insightful and humorous. But, those of an opposing camp will say they don't see any humor in it. There is something about the defense mechanism when your position is attacked that prevents you from finding humor or cleverness in a cartoon. This is probably behind much criticism of certain comics such as "Doonesbury" or "Boondocks." Do you see this? Does it color your view of politically-based cartoons and comics?

Gene Weingarten: This is EXACTLY what is happening in this poll. It is sort of exciting, from an analytic point of view.

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Maryland vs. Virginia: Gene, please help save my relationship. My same-sex partner and I are arguing about where to live. She resents Maryland because they screwed her out of a considerable amount of money a few years back (long story), and also wants to live in Virginia where she can get in-state tuition at the grad school she wants to attend. I, OTOH, argue that houses are far cheaper in Maryland (if "cheaper" is a word that can be reasonably applied to the real estate market these days), and that Virginia's politics are just horrendous, particularly where lesbians and gay men (and families) are concerned. Plus Virginia is just, well, Virginia. (No, living in the District isn't a viable option: neither of us wants to give up our Congressional representation.) Please help!

Gene Weingarten: Um, please forgive this flip response to your question. But do I understand you correctly that you plan to eliminate the most appealing and obviously correct choice because you do not want to give up being one of 3 million votes for a congressman who is one of 500 votes in a Congress that never does anything, anyway?

Please. The District.

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Gay cartoon characters: Not that I would admit to reading it, but "9 Chickweed Lane" also has prominently featured gay characters.

Gene Weingarten: True.

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The Weingarten Legacy: It seems a long time past but I still remember how amazed I was when the Style section went a little bit nuts. The late '90s was it? You dug up some obscure czar and put him on staff. You drew our attention to Ears and messed with the horoscopes. Suddenly, The Post was interactive (before chats and daily polls). More importantly, it became slightly subversive.

As Style Editor, what other oddities and experiments did you introduce? Have any lasted? You didn't start "Life as Haiku," did you? What else did you want to do but were prevented by other staff butchers? And what would you still like to drop on The Post's unsuspecting readers?

Gene Weingarten: First, I was never the Style editor. I was editor only of Sunday Style, but I was empowered to have some fun with the section by the excellent Style Editor Mary Hadar, and later the excellent Style Editor David Von Drehle.

What I did was EXTREMELY un-Postlike.

Since about three-quarters of this chat is made up of non-Washingtonians, an explanation: For a few years, the Sunday Style section did a number of rather subversive and immature things, the most famous of which was the "Ear."

One day early in my tenure as editor, I noticed that at the top of the front of the Style Section was some agate type that always said something like PEOPLE/GARDENS/LIFESTYLES. It not only was stupid and dippy, but it was also basically misleading, since the Sunday Style section, under my editorship, was more like DEATH/HUMOR/SEX. But I couldn't write that. So one day I decided to simply change what that little thing said, without telling anyone. And I wrote the following: 25 YEARS OF ERROR-FREE JOUNRALISM, just like that.

Well, maybe six readers noticed. So I wrote something else funny the next week, and the next, and after a while a small reader cult developed around this thing, which I called the Ear; its existence was only acknowledged in the boring agate type of the Style Invitational -- the type no one ever reads. The official name of the thing at the top of the page became The Ear No One Reads. After a couple of months, I stopped writing the Ears entirely, because Style Invitational readers were submitting their own.

Most of these were really funny. The high point, for me, came one Sunday when I arrived home from the supermarket and my wife said, "Bob Woodward called. He asked you to call him. He said there is a serious problem."

Well, Bob was in charge of the paper that Sunday, and it turns out no one had ever told him about the Ear No One Reads, (not unusual -- most Posties had never noticed it) and when I called him back he said that there had appeared to be some "sabotage" in my section, possibly as part of a labor negotiation at the paper. That day, the Ear read: BROUGHT TO YOU BY A LARGE, UNCARING CONGLOMERATE.

The Ears are not part of the Washington Post archives. Sadly, they disappeared into the ethos. However, I believe that at least one or two Invitationalists out there have kept an archive of them. Anyone have one they can share?

(Oh, as far as Life as Haiku, yeah, that arose indirectly from a project I did at the turn of the millennium. I was in charge of the Post's millennium project, which was a two part special section that ran Dec. 31 1999 and Jan. 1, 2000. It was created as a time capsule, that people could read hundreds of years later, to get an idea of the state of mankind at the turn of the millennium. The entire second section was one hundred hundred-word autobiographies, from Post readers, chosen from 3,000 submissions.

Tom Shroder later adapted this idea to launch Life as Haiku, when he was Sunday Style editor. This is before he became Tom The Butcher. At the time he was still Tom the Butcher's Boy.

Gene Weingarten: Wow! Lizzie found it! And it proves my memory faulty: I misremembered the first one.

The compendium of Ears follows.

washingtonpost.linkmonkey: The Ear No One Reads , ( Courtesy of Gopher Drool )

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K St., Washington, D.C.: Hey, I saw you at Frager's on Sunday. You walked in carrying a propane tank, and I thought to myself, that could be Weingarten, with that hair and mustache, but I wasn't sure, and then I was back in the garden section, and the girl helping you couldn't find whatever you were looking for, and she blamed Dan, and I thought, must be Weingarten, cause otherwise why would she specifically blame someone, she would have just said that she couldn't find it, but she blamed Dan, and Dan is your son, and I've read in here that Dan is working at Frager's this summer, so she must have been kidding around blaming your son for moving the thing that you wanted, but I still wasn't sure it was you, and then... and then you spoke, and my God, I've always read your description of your voice as this terribly thin, nasally, finger-nails on the chalkboard type of thing, but until you actually hear it, you just can't comprehend how painful it is.

You look much younger than I would have thought.

washingtonpost.com: Oh puhleeze.

Gene Weingarten: I keep telling you people this, and you keep thinking I am kidding. My voice is like saltpeter.

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Marineland, Fla.: I am EXTREMELY offended that you would ridicule my deeply-held beliefs with your ignorant, heathenistic statements regarding the flatulence of Rufus P. Dufus and the origins of the universe. Liberals like you have no respect for religion. I will be contacting your paper's ombudsman in my renewed efforts to get you fired once and for all.

Sincerely, Tom Cruise

washingtonpost.com: ( Disclaimer: The above isn't realllly from Tom Cruise )

Gene Weingarten: Disclaimer: The original post is sarcasm, as is Liz's response.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Loved the bus photo. Wish I'd had it this morning as I watched a man cross Old Georgetown at NIH in the middle of the street and then walk down to the intersection where the crosswalk is to enter NIH. If you're going to where the crosswalk is anyhow WHY NOT USE THE CROSSWALK? Especially on a 6 lane road, in rush hour. I do not understand this.

Gene Weingarten: I actually don't empathize with this. I am a New Yorker. I jaywalk always, casually, and without thought.

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Skinny Minnies or Comfortable Carlas?: Hi Gene -- I'm going to put this out there for you and the gang, since I think that there are a lot of male lurkers who could give their two cents about this crucial issue...

Do most guys prefer the Skinny Minnies ala Lindsay Lohan, or the Comfortable Carlas that most of us are in reality? I've been relatively thin most of my life, but have put on a bit of weight lately due to job stress (aka, got laid off) I want to be healthy, but I think I like my curves!

Gene Weingarten: I think there is a continuum of male tastes, and I think it is pretty broad (as it were.) I have always been attracted to petite women (short and small) and know lots of guys who consider that scrawny and so forth.

I don't like really skinny, because I tend to think that suggests a sort of high-strung personality that I am afraid of.

About the only generality that I can make about men is that they do not like REALLY fat women. If you are REALLY fat you know who you are. (Gina has a line she uses in public appearances. She says "there are men who like fat women, but most of them are incarcerated."

And yes, I know there are honest to God exceptions to that, too.

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Fairfax, Va.: Upon seeing the picture in The Post last week of the adult boy scouts supervising the flag burning, I couldn't help but think of you. But then my thoughts wandered, and I realized that there's little in this world that is dorkier looking than an adult man in a boy scout uniform. But the woman in the boy scout uniform looked kind of hot. Go figure.

Gene Weingarten: Well, of course she was hot, she was burning the flag.

(Patriotic humor. A very rare thing, indeed.)

This reminds me of that great Jack Benny quote we reprised here a few weeks ago: A boy scout troop is a bunch of little kids dressed like schmucks following a big schmuck dressed like a kid.

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Alex And Ria: Gene,

In addition to your funny and charming column in the magazine (congrats on the quarter-century mark), I also thoroughly enjoyed David Segal's piece. So, have you ever experienced a Classic Concert Moment?

washingtonpost.com: Memoirs of a Music Man , ( Post Magazine, Aug. 28 )

Gene Weingarten: Yeah. The Band, New York City central park, a long time ago. I was simply astounded to realize that their albums required almost no mixing or editing. They were the tightest band on Earth. They sounded exactly like their albums, and there were no shenanegans.

I was in jaw-dropping awe. Levon Helm's voice is so great, and it needed no help. They were amazing pros.

Anyone out there have the opposite experience? Hearing a favorite band or performer and deciding they simply couldn't cut it live?

(John Prine sounds very different live, but also great. He is a performer.)

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Hurrica, NE: So, now we are going to blow billions rebuilding a frequently-hurricane-targeted city in a bowl below sea-level. And lots of other such cities. At what point do we stop insuring/rebuilding houses and business in places that become national disaster areas about once every five years? I think I remember an old Robin Williams routine about the guys who constantly rebuild in the Mississippi flood plain: "yup, every year the house goes down the river." It seems kinda... dumb.

Gene Weingarten: You'd rather spend the money on Iraq?

This is what our tax money SHOULD be for, sourpuss.

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College Park, Md.: Man, I feel lonely now. As one of the few acknowledged conservatives (conservative people, not Republican) that sit in on this discussion, I'm one of the few that found the shot at The Post not to be unfair. Does this mean I must now leave this chat and reread the Washington Times because I'm an irreconcilable partisan?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, it's unfair. I'll explain.

You AND all the libs are voting with their hearts, not their heads. It's interesting.

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Can't Spe, AK: Since you are (or were?) an editor, I figure this is as good place as any to ask this question.

What are the rules for quoting people in newspaper articles when they clearly make a vocabulary or other language mistake? The Post's article about the hurricane Monday (at least as it appeared online at one point -- I assume it was ever-changing over the course of the day) stated in a discussion of the damage to the Superdome:

Gov. Blanco said "nothing has impaired the lives" of people in the Superdome and that there was no structural damage.

Now he was undoubtedly under a lot of stress, and we can forgive him but he surely should have said "imperiled" or otherwise stated this differently. After all, having to sit in the Superdome, in a hurricane, with no football to watch (or perhaps even with the football that is normally played there), is certainly an impairment of life.

What is most interesting to me is that the writer seems have gone out of his or her way to use the bad quote. After all, the writer paraphases the remainder of the statement, while thowing just those few stated words out there. Maybe they hate the Governor, or maybe they just threw their hands up and said, "I don't know what he means, lets just use the quote."

Of course, this does no good in teaching readers how to speak properly. Without any identification of the error, along the lines of a (sic) annotation, it suggests this is a fine and logical statement.

So I ask again, how should this be handled for the best reading and the betterment of the reading public?

Gene Weingarten: The rules on this at The Post are fluid, and are mostly commonsense. We will correct the grammar of an ordinary person, usually, unless the article is a deep profile of this person, where the way he or she talks is part of understanding who he or she is.

Why correct grammar? Because if you do not do that, the error sometimes takes on inordinate importance, and it seems as though you are trying to make fun of this person, as opposed to reporting what his or her views are. I have changed "less" to "fewer" and such where the original misuse just seems egregiously dum.

We are much more reluctant to change the words of someone who is clearly a public figure, since the public has a right to know how these people talk. If president Bush said people need to use "fewer" gasoline, we'd print that, and probably make fun of it.

Also, in this case, you are talking about substituting a completely different word, and I don't think we'd ever do that, for anyone. Impaired and imperiled are completely different, and who are we to judge what he meant?

I think I would not have used the quote, because it IS clear he was sorta babbling. And the point of using it would have nothing to do with his inability to speak properly.

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Medford, Mass.: I bet I speak for many Weingarten fans after reading the love letter to your wife -- where did you find her? In other words, how did you meet? We're all dying to know, mostly because we want to know if we can find our soulmates there, too!

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: The Nine of Hearts , ( Post Magazine, Aug. 28 )

Gene Weingarten: We were reporters together for a small newspaper in upper New York state. You can't go there, though, to find your mate. It died several years ago, like just about every other p.m. paper in the country.

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Villanel, LE: Least sexy man ever: Karl Rove

Who is your favorite poet? And what is your favorite poem?

Gene Weingarten: Eliot, I think.

Prufrock.

No surprises here.

Also, Ozymandias is one butt-kickin' poem.

I also really like Marriage, by whatsizname. Gregory Corso.

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Punctuati,ON: On the Achenblog, several bloggers wrote in complaining about my favorite punctuation mark, the semicolon. I may misuse and abuse dashes and ellipses, but I revere the semicolon and can not understand why they dislike it.

I noted that the Sunday Post had an article where a comma was used where a semicolon was needed, and the sentence made no sense. Unfortunately, I can't remember the article or the section.

So, do you have a favorite?

washingtonpost.com: Achenblog

Gene Weingarten: The semicolon. I love it; I probably use it too much.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do you have any any strange super-human abilities? I seem to have an extremely above average ability to hear and precisely identify the source and location of just about any near or distant sound.

Gene Weingarten: My sense of smell is really good. For some reason, it is highly developed: sort of what you would expect in someone who was deaf, dumb, blind and quadriplegic.

(Okay, insert Jew joke here.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Remember that Far Side cartoon where the stick figure with the messed up face is a street artist and draws really ugly portraits of all the other stick figures? Well, my question is: Is John McPherson of "Close to Home" really ugly?

Gene Weingarten: I believe it can be safely stated that John McPherson is the worst cartoonist on the comics pages. He has some good ideas, but man.

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The Empress of The Style Invitational: Re the Ears No One Read:

The actual reason Gene was prompted to replace it was that they usually said PEOPLE/ FASHION/ GARDENS. And they were saying this quite some time after the garden columnist had, um, begun pushing up daisies.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha. Ah, thank you, 'press. Yes, the great Henry Mitchell. This is correct.

However, no one "prompted" me to replace it, as I recall. I just did it.

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Louisville, Ky.: I saw the Ramones on their Adios Amigos tour in 1996. They were terrific, except Joey had to take a 20 minutes off stage because he wasn't able to breathe anymore. Somehow, oxygen tanks and punk rock don't really mix that well.

Gene Weingarten: I once saw whatsizname in Albany. He was so drunk he couldn't stand or finish the set. Joe Cocker. He was still pretty good.

The woman who ran the show told me later he consumed an entire fifth of Bushmill's backstage before the show.

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Curio, US: Give us the behind-the-scenes tick-tock with your wife's reaction to the column. Did she know ahead of time? Are your Sunday supplements delivered a day early, and did she see it then?

Or does she avoid your colmun regularly, and only read it this week after you made a series of pointed references?

Also -- did it help you get any?

Gene Weingarten: She read it on Saturday. I was immeasurably helped by the fact that one of her friends emailed her Saturday morning saying how much she liked the column, without mentioning its subject matter. My wife had no idea what the column was about, so went to find it. I think this put her in a frame of mind to like it.

I got a minor reprimand, and a kiss.

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Alexandria, Va.: RE: (6) My ideal woman would appreciate elegant jewelry, but also proudly wear certain items I bought her, such as a 14-karat gold Richard Nixon pendant, or a prom-type pin personally inscribed with the date that we both got severe diarrhea together in a Mexican hotel room.

This is the most romantic thing I've ever heard of! Oh, if ONLY I could find a man who would give me such thoughtful gifts! Have you given any more thought to a Weingarten-sponsored dating... thing? And yes, I am serious, and yes, I am an attractive woman with great boobs.

Gene Weingarten: But I don't LIKE great boobs.

And I don't know any men who do.

Okay, okay, so I might be kidding about that last one.

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Blan, CO: Gov. Kathleen Blanco, of Louisiana. Not a man.

Gene Weingarten: Ah.

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Albany, N.Y.: This one was inevitable.

Dr. Kaput, 63, a professor at the university for 25 years, was jogging near his Dartmouth home Saturday when he was hit by a pickup truck. He died later that day from severe head injuries at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

Er, I mean, how tragic.

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Happyanniversa, RI: So, after 25 years of marriage: what's the funniest thing your wife ever said to you?

Gene Weingarten: "Do you know how to put out a grease fire?"

She woke me one morning with this. Got me up right quick, too.

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Gene Weingarten: The poll.

Shame on many of you. You let your political leanings intrude on what should be objective determinations of worth.

1. The Post-Agenda: Clearly unfair, but quite effective. Not very funny.

(It's unfair for several reasons, among them that covering an event that every single news medium has decided is in fact an important story, and which inherently contains both sides of the issue at hand, is not like corporately taking a stance on a politicized issue. However, it is effective because a lot of people who do not think too deeply about this will think, yeah, there's some hypocrisy there. It's just not a knee-slapper either way.)

2. Hobby Horse: Spectacularly unfair, and not really effective because of that.

(It's just too over the top, too filled with vitriol. And simple in concept, so everyone would get it, and therefore not effective. Not really funny for that reason, either.)

3. Stem Cells: Very interesting. Not really unfair. Pretty effective. A good cartoon. Reasonably funny.

4. Poodle: By far the funniest. Very effective. Definitely unfair. There is a real issue here, with some apparently credible evidence; it is not just the French peeing on him. But it's not THAT unfair, certainly fair comment.

5. Robertson: Why did you all think this is funny? Your politics are showing, methinks. This is very direct, quite heavyhanded and unclever. It is also pretty effective, and fair.

6. John Roberts: Not a bad cartoon, though terribly drawn. It's fair, I think, from a conservative standpoint: The Dems have had a hard time articulating their position on national security. It's not remotely funny, really. And it's pretty effective.

Okay, my answers: 4 is the funniest, 6 and 5 tie for unfunniest, 2 is the least fair, with 4 a close second. Most effective, believe it or not, is probably 1. Least effective is 2. It won't change anyone's mind about anything.

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Your voice: Is it more David Sedaris or more Velma from Scooby-Doo?

Keep in mind that Abraham Lincoln was said to have a high-pitched, squeaky voice.

Can you post an audio file of you saying something? It would be best if it were something really mean.

Gene Weingarten: There is one out there. Possibly Liz could find it. It is a phone interview between me and Rodney Dangerfield. Rodney was still alive at the time.

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Reprima, ND: Gene -- All you got was a KISS? Do all 25th anniversaries suck big time like that?

Gene Weingarten: I didn't say that was ALL I got.

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Orlando, Fla.: Do you consider The Washington Post to be the best written paper in the country? My teacher said the Wall Street Journal was better, but I don't believe him.

Gene Weingarten: No, the Post is better, because it takes chances with form and style.

The Journal is very well written, but pretty tightly formulaic.

Yes, I think the Post is the best-writ paper in the country. Which means that sometimes it will carry some writing that fails. Which it does.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: Re "However, no one 'prompted' me to replace it, as I recall. I just did it."

Nuh-uh, I pointed it out to you, and we put it in during a late stage of production. Nobody else saw it until it was in the paper.

And speaking of public officials who don't get their words out quite right: Yesterday we also had: ``It's a storm now that is moving through and now is the time for governments to help people get their feet on the ground,'' Bush said.

Gene Weingarten: Really? YOU birthed the Ear?

I didn't recall. I'm not surprised, though.

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re: Henry Mitchell: I went to a fancy boys' school where we had good clear writing beaten into thick heads; I didn't become a half decent writer until I sat down and read Henry Mitchell. Garden writer my foot -- the man was E.B. White come to D.C. He belongs in The Post pantheon with Chalmers Roberts and... well, I have my list. Do you have yours?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah. Henry Allen is on that list.

Um, um....

I'm thinking. Stephen Hunter, probably.

It's a short list. I'll keep thinking.

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washingtonpost.com: Gene interviews Rodney Dangerfield , ( Oct. 2004 )

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Close to Ho, ME: "I believe it can be safely stated that John McPherson is the worst cartoonist on the comics pages."

You're kidding, right? Scott Stantis' illustrations for "Prickly City" are an affront to all that is good in the world. To say nothing of the comic itself...

Gene Weingarten: Compared to McPherson, Stantis is Oliphant.

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For Hurrica,NE: I'd be curious to know where that poster lives and how much we shell out in tax dollar for various subsidies and whatnot in his/her region.

Besides, calling New Orleans a "frequently targeted" city is imbecilic. This, directly from weather.com "It's been 25 years since a major hurricane made direct hit on New Orleans. The city has never felt the fury of a Category 4 or 5 storm."

Gene Weingarten: Yeah. That was sort of a mean person, methinks.

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Trying Not To Crush his Little Heart, OH: Ok, so I made the mistake of dating a very sweet, but completely hopeless guy and now I want out. Yes, you shouldn't date just to be nice, but I did and now I need to escape quick. I'd explain why, but I'm sure that's another chat.

So, how do I do this without breaking his little, hopeless heart? I turn to you Gene with your gift of humor to help me get out of this.

P.S. Not only am I a panty throwing fan, but I sit down on toilet seats, pee in the shower, flush with my hand and open mouth kiss my male and female friends. I do not pee in sinks or cans... the balancing act is too risky.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think you're supposed to balance on the can.

You tell your guy as soon as possible, and directly. And emphasize how it's you, not him. Which it probably is, anyway.

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Cine, Ma: Lately I've been compiling a list of comedians and their best movies (Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Steve Martin in All of Me), and I couldn't come up with anything by Robin Williams (on-screen, that is). Did he blow it?

Gene Weingarten: He's been in a lot of bad movies. Including one of the worst movies ever made. Was it titled "What Dreams May Come," where he goes to Hell to rescue his wife? Was that it?

I'm sure he was in some good movies, right?

The Jerk might be better than All of Me.

Also LA story. And Roxanne.

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Re: Poll: Any reason this week's poll wasn't split into two, one for "lefties" and another for "righties"? Seems like it would have been perfect.

washingtonpost.com: Oh darn. Too late now.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, Lizzie just LOVES it when I give her that extra chore.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene,

Sorry. Nothing personal. But the single funniest item in this Sunday's Post was in the Outlook section by the physicist seeking equal time for the intelligent design theory with the Spaghetti-monster grand creator.

washingtonpost.com: Verbatim: Noodle This, Kansas , ( Post, Aug. 28 )

Gene Weingarten: No offense taken. The Spaghetti Monster phenomenon is hilarious and important, and I wish I had thought of it.

The New York Times was forced to cover this yesterday.

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Dublin Ireland Loser: Michio Kaku happens to be a world expert on String Field Theory. So when he informed you that he had no problem with you quoting him (as long as it was funny and not derogatory), did he then say "my permission comes with no strings attached?"

Gene Weingarten: He did, in essence.

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Baltimore, Md.: Given the recent focus on music here of late, I propose a new query: what is the most inappropriate commercial use of a classic song? My entry: "Fortunate Son," by CCR, as used to sell Wrangler jeans. The commercial quotes the lyrics, "Some folks are born made to wave the flag, oooh, they're red white and blue," over a huge, "Proud to be an American" background. Ending with "Real. American. Jeans." How much more "America, what a great country" can you get?

So I have to wonder: did the Wrangler executives even listen to the full song? You'd think that if they'd heard it even once, they'd have picked up on the utter irony of their choice. Just listen to the rest of that verse: "And when the band plays 'Hail To The Chief, oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord. It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no senator's son."

That commercial did nothing more than send me into spasms of uncontrollable laughter. Of course, I haven't seen it on the air recently, so perhaps I'm not the only one who picked up on the problem.

BTW, I exclude political usages from this discussion. To my mind, Ronald Reagan's attempt to use "Born in the USA" to reinforce his "Morning in America" theme takes the cake (once again: did you even listen to the lyrics?). But I recognize that differing political opinions may lead to different conclusions about the appropriateness of using a particular song for a particular candidate.

washingtonpost.com: My nominee: "Lust for Life" used for... I think it was a Carnival Cruiseline commercial.

Gene Weingarten: Nope, you guys have not come remotely close to the worst. Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans" used for a laxative commercial.

"Good morning, America, how are ya...."

That is the greatest train song ever written.

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Orlando, Fla.: How would I donate an interesting item I have to the Style Invitational? (Is it okay if I just send it by mail, though it has an unusual size, security wise?)

Gene Weingarten: Email losers@washpost.com.... You will receive instructions

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Robin Williams: Good Morning Viet Nam. He was robbed of the Oscar.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, very good. Not really a comedy, zackly.

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Butte ND: Gene: I see that a talent-less Hollywood hack is going to be online after you. Ladies and gentleman, Mr. John Landis. He made 2.5 watchable movies; "Animal House" -- but face it, mainly because of Belushi's performance; "Trading Places" -- but face it, mainly because of Eddie Murphy's performance; the non-brothers music sequences in "Blues Brothers." Weigh against this some of the worst cheese inflicted on the public: "3 Amigos" -- rendering Martin Short and Chevy Chase unfunny is no mean feat, "Oscar," "Beverly Hills Cop III," "1941." Need I go on? What should we ask him which will induce him into a career change?

washingtonpost.com: John Landis , ( Live Online, Aug. 30, 1 p.m. ET )

Gene Weingarten: You forgot his LITERAL disaster in The Twilight Zone.

I disagree with you about the Three Amigos, though. That movie had enough moments to be pretty good. "Sew, old woman. Sew like the wind!"

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Bailey's Crossroads: Gene, I had a hard time pinpointing my feelings about WMAL firing Michael Graham. I strongly support freedom of speech, but something about his statements as quoted in The Post yesterday really seemed to cross a line. But then your comment regarding Pat Robertson said it perfectly: "That shows misjudgment. You can think whatever you want, but to say some things, when you have a public forum, is just plain irresponsible. For example, I would never SAY that I thought assassinating Pat Robertson wouldn't be so bad."

Gene Weingarten: Precisely!

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Takoma Park, Md.: Gene Weingarten: Okay, thank you all. Liz points out that a few answers ago I wrote "I bed chicks don't like bad dentures." I pointed out that she could have changed it.

Now wait just a darn minute. A couple of weeks ago, apropos your discussion of Lesbians and sushi, you told me that Liz lacked the power to "let you" (or not let you) do anything -- that was the beauty of a real-time chat. Now you say that she can correct you. Am I missing something, or do you need to get your story straight?

washingtonpost.com: I have no power to stop what Gene writes during the show. I can modify it after the fact, but that would be wrong, don't you think?

Gene Weingarten: Let's say I accidentally wrote something that seemed really, really, personally problematic due to a typo. Let's say I intended to write "my wife does not have a large butt," and I accidentally typed "my wife does now have a large butt."

The only way I could get this corrected would be to call Chatwoman aftewards and beg her to make the correction. And she would let me twist in the wind. I just know I would have to deal with hours of her first discussing and mulling the journalistics ethics of altering text once it was written, etc.

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Pottstown, Pa.: Gene, what is the deal with "The Wizard of Id" and "B.C." today (8/26)? Did I miss a memo again?

washingtonpost.com: Wizard of Id , ( Aug. 26 ) | B.C. , ( Aug. 26 )

Gene Weingarten: I did some Googling. It was Brant Parker's 85th birthday, and Brant has a pretty big nose.

Parker is Hart's childhood friend, and they have been collaborators for 50 years or so.

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Falls Church, Va.: Bless you for knowing Steve Goodman wrote City Of New Orleans, not Arlo...

Gene Weingarten: Backstory: Steve wrote it, performed it for Arlo, and asked Arlo to take it to Johnny Cash. He wanted Johnny to perform it.

As Arlo said in a concert I was at, when he related this story: "I forgot."

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Re: Making Your Bed: Your "ideal woman" is actually wrong about this. Making a bed causes it to be more inviting to bed bugs and other parasites. A messy bed is safer.

Gene Weingarten: Why on Earth would that be?

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Dogtown: Hi Gene,

Since I heart you and Dave Barry equally, your beautiful eulogy for Harry S made me wonder if Dave ever published something similar for Earnest and Zippy. He's written quite a few moving pieces about personal family stuff, all of which I loved. Just wonderin' if you know. I'm going to go kiss my dog now.

Gene Weingarten: The most moving thing Dave wrote was after his mom died; he addressed the death of a dog of his -- not Zippy or Ernest but a previous dog named Shawna -- hilariously, in one of his year-end-reviews items. I am not doing it justice here, but to paraphrase:

Sept 3 -- After spending the last four years attempting to run under the wheels of a garbage truck, my dog, Shawna, succeeds.

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Not Really London: Worst use of a song in a commercial has to be LONDON CALLING by The Clash to sell Jaguar automobiles. A song about a nuclear apocolypse by a band with overt anti-materialistic leanings used to sell an overpriced penis substitute to middle aged men.

Gene Weingarten: Not bad.

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18th Fairway, Ohio: From the LA Times:

"Ian Hamilton in Canada's Regina Leader Post: 'Among the field at the Canadian men's amateur golf championship were Andrew Parr, Dave Bunker and Ryan Yip, who may want to blame his putting for his second-round loss.'"

Gene Weingarten: WOW! Man, that is a terrible name for a golfer! That would be like, I don't know, being "Sister Margaret Mary Slut."

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Boston, Mass.: I ate a bowl of beets for lunch and they seem to have turned my poo crimson. Is this a frequent occurence in, say, Russia?

washingtonpost.com: Hence the Cold War nickname "Reds."

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha.

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King Leer: Gene,

I have always been a breast man, but as a fan of your chat I am starting to become a VPL man. It's not as easy to get caught looking!;

Thanks to you and your chatters for changing my life, from the bottom up.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, it is not as easy to get caught looking, but far more embarrassing. As a yoot, I occasionally did that thing where you pass a woman on the street or in a hallway, and then turn around to catch her walking away.

Sometimes, she'll turn around and catches you. And that makes you feel like the worm you are.

I don't do this hardly ever anymore. My question to the ladies: Are you TRYING to catch us, or is it mostly coincidence? Whichever, it works.

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Landis Roc, KS: "Would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?"

Gene Weingarten: Yes. That whole movie was pretty good.

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Arlington, Va.: Headline of the Week ?

Gene Weingarten: I looked at this ten minutes ago and laughed. Then I clicked on it again, and am re-laughing.

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Mars, The Universe: The chat closed before I could get this in last week, but I have to tell you that I, as a woman, find John Basedow hot. He IS fairly overmuscled, but he has a really sweet face and great hair and the muscles are kind of nice, too.

-- RC

Gene Weingarten: Wow. Lizzie, can we link to him again. I thought it possible a gay guy or two might find this attractive, but not a woman. Any OTHER woman agree?

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Size Preference : You wrote "For some reason, no woman has spoken up about the merits of short and thin."

Well, my wife is pretty busy at work during these chats, but otherwise ...

Gene Weingarten: Understood.

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washingtonpost.com: John Basedow

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Arlington, Va.: In Saturday's Frazz , it's a bit irritating to hear the guy who likes to make fun of fat people getting offended by someone who makes fun of old people. Frazz would be a more pleasant character if he weren't so selectively moralistic.

Gene Weingarten: Well, you know, there is a difference. Everyone gets old.

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Jaywalking = Death: I imagine you are kidding somewhat but as a motorcyclist, I have literally run over two jaywalkers who "didn't see" me... despite the fact that my motorcycle has a headlight so powerful that it can set small trees on fire. I left treadmarks on one guy. No kidding, honest-to-God treadmarks. It was like something out of Looney Tunes. Don't jaywalk. It's bad for your health.

Gene Weingarten: The key is to be a GOOD jaywalker. It is an art. I have never caused a near accident.

A key is to walk at a 45 degree angle.

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Bed bugs: An allergist explained to me that dust mites are unhappy below 70 degrees -- I think they die -- so that was why I didn't have as many problems with my dust mite allergy in the winter (we keep thermostat at 70 in the winter, turn it down to 62 at night). She also said that it is good to leave a bed unmade in the morning to let it cool down and kill the mites. Perhaps this applies to bed bugs, too. I remember in historical novels people letting beds air out. BUt you can still make them up after they have cooled off, so no excuse for slobs.

Gene Weingarten: Man, this could change EVERYTHING. Because women are the principal proponents of made beds AND the principal opponents of bedbugs and mites.

I'll have to report back.

Thanks for a terrific chat. I'll be updating and whatnot. See you next week.

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Bedbugs: Scientific study: making the bed keeps the sheets damper, hence a better environment for the mites and other beasties. Leaving the bed unmade allows better ventilation, thus dehydrating the little suckers.

Gene Weingarten: Even better!

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UPDATED 8.31.05

Peek, IN: I don't do this hardly ever anymore. My question to the ladies: Are you TRYING to catch us, or is it mostly coincidence? Whichever, it works.

Gene, When I look, I am confirming -- not really catching. I can tell when a guy is going to turn around and peek after I go by because he makes eye contact and has a certain look in his eye. I generally just need to know if I have interpreted him correctly, and it is also kind of an ego boost.

Is it possible to send Virtual Panty Lines?

Gene Weingarten: This confirms what I and other men fear. You are turning around strategically.

Man.

You women with good butts are tough cookies.

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Jaywalking Karma: The key to good jaywalking is that traffic should flow on just as if you weren't there. You wait for a break, and if you have to, you speed up so that they don't slow down. Conversely, if you have the right of way (say, a walk signal) at an intersection and there is a short opportunity for a car to turn right on red, you should wave it through and walk behind it.

If you do this, you will find that even in D.C. rush hour, you will be able to turn without pedestrians clogging the crosswalk. Plus, you will become a better driver, because you can anticipate jaywalkers.

Gene Weingarten: This is exactly right. I once edited a piece in Sunday Style on just this point. The classy jaywalker never affects the traffic pattern at all. He is a threat to no one except the peace of mind of lockstep-obey-all-authority prigs.

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Portland, Ore.: Did anyone ever publish a book of Henry Mitchell's columns? I agree; he was wonderful. Not to mention a really great garden writer. I learned most of what I know about gardening from him. Always lucid, clear; never patronizing.

washingtonpost.com: At least two: "The Essential Earthman" and "One Man's Garden."

Gene Weingarten: Now you know.

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Boston, Mass.: Gene, I was wondering what you thought about the article in the Times last week saying that some men are traumatized by watching their wives give birth, and can't feel sexually attracted to them afterwards. It seemed really sad to me, I was wondering how, as a husband and father, you felt about it.

Gene Weingarten: It's ridiculous.

I watched Molly's birth.

Later, we had Dan.

Okay?

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UPDATED 9.1.05

Alexandria, Va.: Speaking of menstruation, a euphemism I ran across was "having the painters in"

Gene Weingarten: I like that one!

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Land of Cleve, Ohio: This link is to an article about a neighbor from hell. I sent this to people at work who thought she wasn't for real. What surprised me was she was 54 years old; everybody thought she was some old senile woman. By the way, she was charged with 79 misdemeanor counts, ordered not to come within 10 feet of her neighbors, and released on a $2,500 bond.

Gene Weingarten: This is a deeply disturbing story, mostly because it could happen to anyone.

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New York, N.Y.: Gene: Can you explain today's Non Sequitur?

Gene Weingarten: I meant to mention this! I have no idea. Not a clue. Anyone?

Possibly, it is just that global warming policies are failing so badly ...? Nah.

washingtonpost.com: Non Sequitur, (Aug. 30)

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Falls Church, Va.: I saw The Band in Central Park in the summer of 1971. Great show. I remember thinking that The Band was the perfect name for the group, because that's exactly what they were -- a band, not five individuals playing together. The sum was greater than the parts. BTW, the show I saw featured Happy and Artie Traum as the opening act.

P.S. What a great series those concerts in Central Park were!

Gene Weingarten: I believe, strange as it may seem, that this was the same show I was at. Hard to recall precisely, if you know what I mean.

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UPDATED 9.2.05

Washington, D.C.: Why is the artwork in "Close to Home" considered awful, but "Mutts" is considered genius? I'm not saying "Mutts" is no ood, but why the double standard?

Gene Weingarten: Because "Mutts" is one of the few successful retro attempts at anything. It is drawn in a different era. Krazy Kat era.

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re: Peppermint Patty being gay: Just because a girl is a tomboy does not mean she is gay. Thank you.

Gene Weingarten: Right. I meant to say this. We have no evidence whatsoever that Patty is gay. In fact, because she misunderstands Marcie's devotion to her, she probably is not.

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Orlando, Fla.: I heart you even more! My favorite poem is also "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock!" I loved it when you changed it for one of your columns. Why is it your favorite?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, because of its grand scope and the beauty of its language. And interior rhyme. I am a sucker for interior rhyme.

It explains the process of a man getting old, and of feeling insignificant. It does so in a way that no one ever dare tackle this subject, so comprehensively, again.

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re: Ladies catching you checking for VPL: Did it ever occur to you that the ladies were trying to check out your a**?

Gene Weingarten: It did not.

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