Chatological Humor* (Updated 2.3.06)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006; 12:00 PM

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

DAILY UPDATES: 2.1.06 | 2.2.06 | 2.3.06

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 .

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ .


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

As I promised last week, I begin today with photographs of the car I have been writing about, lovingly, for five years. It is a two-door 1991 Mazda 323, roughly the size of a St. Bernard. Its four-cylinder engine is the size of a KitchenAid appliance.

I love this car, but, due to the personal dysfunction to which I have alluded many times, the car looks like a diseased polyp. When I e-mailed these photos to Chatwoman last night -- Chatwoman, who worships me and secretly longs to be my concubine and who would sooner gouge out an eyeball than utter a disparaging word to me -- sent me this message: "Your car is disgusting. How old are you, 19?"

Fifty-four, but fair enough. My own lovely wife has made this identical point many times. I offer no excuses; indeed, today I share my shame with the world. Man, I love this car.

Photo Gallery: Gene's Car

Okay, then. Just one more invaluable piece of evidence that I Do Not Lie.

Please take TODAY'S POLL . I am going to explain the correct answers -- there are definitely correct answers, though it's hard to tell it from your absurd, scattershot responses so far -- in about 20 minutes. That is because I want to give Tim Page a chance to see my explanation, and savage me with his rebuttal. Being savaged by Tim Page is practically an honor. He does savagery as well as anyone in journalism, on a par at least with Tom Shales. He has written that that McCartney is "arguably the most talented surviving Beatle."

This was a terrible comics week. No CPOW, just runners up. They are Thursday's Frazz , Thursday's Fuzzy , Thursday's Nonseq , and Sunday's Big Nate .


Arlington, Va.: As a law student, I found your article (and the cartoon) pretty hilarious. However, this is the sort of attitude that gives lawyers a bad reputation. That second lawyer wouldn't put you on the stand because you aren't obligated to implicate yourself to the state. When it comes down to the AWESOME POWER OF THE STATE versus one dude, the state carries the burden. For someone like a cab driver, the lawyer fee is a small price to pay for keeping points off your license. You can probably afford a ticket, so it doesn't matter to you. But people who don't like lawyers sure like them in a hurry when they need something, even if it's something stupid like having a reckless busted down to a smaller infraction.

I still think lawyer jokes are funny, I just worry about the world's attitude towards my chosen profession sometimes. Below the Beltway: Two Too Many , ( Post Magazine, Jan. 29 )

Gene Weingarten: A few people made similar points. I actually have no problem with lawyers (my wife is one) or even these guys in particular. They weren't being unethical, they were playing for angles within the system, which is a lawyer's job. My only real complaint was the ambulance-chasing aspect of this. The opportunism of combing public records and sending out a letter to every poor schmo who gets a ticket.


Rockville, Md.: "Piano Man" isn't a bad song, but it is horribly overplayed. You could easily add this to the list of rock songs that we've all heard so many times that they wouldn't be missed if they were never played again. That list also includes "Hotel California," "Stairway to Heaven," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Aqualung" and "Maggie May." Not bad songs, really, just played to death.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, this raises a question that perhaps some knowledgeable person out there can answer. Why is it that songs seem to suddenly appear on oldies stations, get played to death for a couple of weeks or so, then disappear. Most recently, it is Mellow Yellow. I'm getting pretty mad about saffron, right about now.


Froomk,IN: There was good line in Froomkin's chat last week.

A poster remarked that we should change the name of the #3 in al Queda to Kenny because he dies in every episode.

Is Froomkin a great name or what?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, but it is not as good as "Philadelphia Bunnyface."


Rockville, Md.: Gene,Do you have as much disdain for other (non-blood) relationships as you do for the fiance/fiancee relationship? After all, don't we all spend a good amount of time trying to define our relationships with other people? Why else would there be so many names for associates?

Guy I'm dating: this is someone I hope to sleep with soon.

Boyfriend: this is a guy I'm sleeping with, till one of us gets bored.

Husband/wife: this is someone I plan to have children with, unless of course we change our minds, or can't have children, or decide to travel. In which case, we'll just have the rings.

Or colleague: this is someone I work with, who I have to see on a daily basis and interact with, but honestly, I don't trust or like them enough to call them a friend. So don't tell them personal stuff about me, OK?

Or friend versus good friend. Here's my friend Gene, but over there is my GOOD friend Dave. What's the difference?

I understand what you're saying, in theory, but to be fair you'd have to disregard all relationship titles and leave people guessing who is close with you and who isn't. How would you explain relationships without them?

Gene Weingarten: I don't accept your premise, but even if I did, my point is that, with a fiance, you DON'T have to explain the relationship. "Boyfriend" serves just fine. I don't CARE if you are intending to marry this person. Marry him, THEN we'll talk.


Paree, Fraunce: Why eez zere a neuw Pink Panther moovee, and why eez Steve Martain een eat?

Gene Weingarten: I 'ave no idea.


Alexandria, Va.: I was surprised that the Pearls Before Swine from 1/21 didn't make your honorable mention list last week -- it really cracked me up, it was so unexpected.

Gene Weingarten: Um. This is pretty lame.


On the floor of your car: Uh, is that a syringe?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha. No.


Pearls: So, what do you think of the "Four out of five dentists" theme that Pastis has going lately?

Gene Weingarten: I thought the first one was good.


AJ, AR: Since you are a commentator on gender interactions, I was hoping you'd share your position on men holding doors open for women.

This subject is of disproportional interest to me for a few reasons: I work in a male-dominated field (engineering,) I look like a helpless female (short, petite, late 20s but appear about 17), and I am decidedly non-girly. Nothing makes me feel less like a peer than when the crowd of guys I'm working with parts to let me through a door first. I've resigned myself to their behavior, but I've taken to holding the next door open for everyone.

The amount of consternation this generates with some men is amazing. I even had a 3 minute standoff once because one man wouldn't go through a door before me. Most aren't that extreme, but many have to tell me each and every time that their mothers' would be horrified to know what they were doing. So, what's the deal?

Gene Weingarten: Hm. I don't hold doors for women. I'm not sure I really differentiate between men and women, in my door-related activities. Do women really care about this issue? You all feel patronized?


Silver Spring, Md.: Be careful with cigar trappings in your car, Gene. I was once pulled over (for an expired registration sticker -- I had the new one, just forgot to apply it), and suspected of marijuana use because of what the officer identified as "blunt debris."

Gene Weingarten: Geez.


Washington, D.C.: While i was growing up my parents drove a 1979 Mazda 626 well until the 90s. It was inexplicably stolen while I was in middle school and I think I cried. I had never even driven it, but I knew it had something special. I respect you and your car immensely, Gene.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Whitman Vikings: Did you live in Maryland when the kids went to high school or did they transfer out of the District?

Gene Weingarten: We lived in Bethesda. Moved to D.C. the minute schools were not a factor.


New York, N.Y.: Every so often, you hear of an idea that makes you smack your head and shout " why didn't I think of that first ?"

I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want to bring their kids to a theme park where the air is leaden with despair and all hope for the future is crushed with long-winded prose.

Gene Weingarten: About the only thing worse would be a Sartre theme park. Or, no, wait. A Sylvia Plath theme park.


Alexandria, Va.: Gene,

I may be the only person on the planet who didn't get this, but could someone please explain the B.C. from last Thursday (Jan. 26)? Thanks. B.C. , ( Jan. 26 )

Gene Weingarten: Ah, yes. I meant to mention this. I gave up after about a minute of trying. The thing with Hart and his bizarrer comics is that half the time, it is clever, and half the time it is lunacy.



State of the onion: Is the reference to Spinal Tap intentional? (Speaker going up to 11). If so, you are to be commended. If not, you are an old fart.

Gene Weingarten: I AM an old fart, but of course it was intentional.


Bowie, Md.: Is the presence of a Carter/Mondale bumper sticker on a 1991 automobile more of a humor or political thing?

Gene Weingarten: Humor. I also had a Reagan sticker on it. Pipefitters for Reagan.


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: What the heck is 'Aqualung'? I've heard of the band, but I think this guy is talking about a song. You've gotta be kidding me: ...snot is dripping down his nose...

Gene Weingarten: Good God, how old are you? Twelve?


Men Rock: "We ARE hideous looking, aren't we? How do you ladies screw up the stomach to copulate with us?"

I've noticed this sentiment in some of your earlier chats, too. I'm gay and possibly somewhat biased, but I honestly believe that men are much more attractive than women. I like women. I admire their abilities. Some of my best friends are women. Yadayadayada. But a handsome, fit man trumps an attractive woman hands down. Much like the peacock outshines the peahen, Michelangelo's David will always surpass the Mona Lisa. Lean muscle. A strong chest. A well-defined back. A chiseled face. Aesthetically, I find these characteristics far more beautiful than anything a woman has to offer, and all of my gay buddies do too. Is this is just a gay thing? Do straight women share my opinion? Are sexual attraction and perception of beauty inseparable?

Gene Weingarten: You know, this is a very good question.

So, women: Which is the better-looking sex?


Washington, D.C.: Hygiene. It's the "funny woman" from your Inbox last week. I can't believe you have the SKULL SHIFTER KNOB on your car! This makes me very excited, and less afraid of the state of the rest of your vehicle. However, I bet I am in the minority of my gender, just as with my "wiping from the front" shenanigans.

Gene Weingarten: But surely the state of the car inspires SOME fear and dread?


Holding doors: While I do appreciate a door being held for me, I'm also just as likely to hold the door open for a man. What gets me is when you hesitate for a moment to hold a door for someone following behind you and they fail to acknowledge it. If I purposely wait to hold the door for you, the least you can do is say thanks.

Gene Weingarten: Right. I do that, but I dont think I discriminate between sexes.


New York, N.Y.: Check out the name of the UCLA film professor who specialized on Hollywood history, discussing the effect of celebrities and their "private" filmed acts:

A History of Celebrity Sex Videos , ( )

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.


Mazda: I used to sell Mazdas back in the early '90s. I asked one of the dealer mechanics which one he'd buy and, without pausing, he said the 323. No AC, no auto, just solid transportation and easy to fix.

So I bought a Saab.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly. No AC is vital. It saps the power of a car this small.

I paid $6,900 for it in 1991. I have never had a serious repair, except for the muffler having to be replaced every 20,000 miles. A design flaw.


Alexandria, Va.: Weird female here - I don't get it. What's wrong with your car? Low mileage and paid for, right? Who cares how it looks as long as it runs? I'd rather save money on car payments so I can eat more ridiculously expensive sushi!

Gene Weingarten: Totally agreed. But the grunge gets to some people.


Women are so better looking than men.: I am a straight woman.

Gene Weingarten: More opinions, please. I mean, to me this is obvious.


Door holding: I've never minded guys holding a door for me, if they don't make a show of it. That just comes across as "Look at what a wonderful man I am" rather than merely being polite.

I went on a date with a man a few years ago who almost sprinted ahead of me so he could get to the door handles first. We didn't go out again.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, that just seems absurdly uncool to me. I guess "uncool" is an uncool word.


Door Holding and Elevators: I don't think I differentiate between men and women in holding doors open in that I hold for both(though I have a feeling of obligation to women), but I have a dilemna regarding women and elevators.

It seems to be custom to let women get off the elevator first, so I have taken this on and allow them off. However, most of the time the woman then gets stuck opening the door to go outside and I feel bad about that. What do I do? Ram her over to get out of the elevator first so I can open the door, or let her out of the elevator so that she can give a disheartned look when she has to open the door on her own?

Gene Weingarten: You stop obsessing. She is a human, too, with hands.

And please, as a favor to me, don't ever again write "dilemna." Thank you.


Schoolyard: "We lived in Bethesda. Moved to D.C. the minute schools were not a factor."

You make it sound like you lived somewhere you didn't like just because D.C. schools leave something to be desired. I'm sure you thought about living in D.C. and sending the kids to private school. I even know someone who lived in D.C. and paid to send their kid to Maryland public school. What were your thoughts on living somewhere that didn't seem to be a first choice, just because of schools.

Gene Weingarten: We wanted our kids in public school. We really believe in public schools. And they were diverse, until high school, which was something of a disappointment. Whitman in the late 1990s was almost all white.


50-cent tour of Middle East: I'm ignorant about the Middle East and who I should be "rooting" for. Please advise in 50 words or less.

Gene Weingarten: You should be rooting against Iran and Syria and praying (haha) that Hamas abandons its terrorist ways once it becomes the responsible, party in power of the Palestinian state, which you support. You should be hoping that Iraq finds a way to be a secular democracy, even if you hate George W. Bush and think he made a historic blunder by going in there. You should support Israel not because it is Jewish but because it is a sane, secular democracy. You want Lebanon to be at peace. You don't care much about Kuwait.


Mazda color?: I know several people who own that model and every single one has a blue car. Did it not come in other colors?

Gene Weingarten: I have seen some in red. The greatest testament to how wonderful this car is, is that you still see so many of them on the road. And if you stop the drivers and ask them if it is the best car they ever owned, almost all will answer in the affirmative.


Vienna, Va.: Straight guy, women are divine in appearance. So-called attractive men all seem to be trying, whereas a truly beautiful woman needs put forth no effort...

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha. I have a feeling the girls will disagree with this.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Gene,

Yes, it does bother the heck out of me when men rush to open the door for me, unless, of course, I have my hands full. In that instance, I'd like to think that the guy would hold the door if a man were in my place, but maybe I'm just deluding myself.

In Pittsburgh, however, they go beyond the door thing to the elevator thing. No man gets on or off of an elevator until all of the women have exited/entered. You can imagine how ridiculous this gets when men are near the front of the elevator and a woman has to push her way out from the back. Or when there is a short close time on the door. I've seen elevator doors actually close because of a standoff between a man and a woman. This is the only city in which I have encountered this behavior.

Gene Weingarten: We really all ought to grow up, you know?


Dilemna: Whoa... why did I not know that dilemna is wrong... why is that misspelled in my vocab. Is that a common misspelling and I just picked it up somewhere?

Either way thanks for the correction

Gene Weingarten: It is common. It is awful.


McLean, Va.: Gene, those pictures of your car brought back memories of my beloved (but now departed) '81 Dodge Colt -- a rebadged Japanese hatchback that was even smaller and (near the end) shoddier-looking than your Mazda.

My favorite accessory on that car was a "gag" toggle switch by the HVAC controls labeled "Front Machine Guns" -- the lettering and the switch housing perfectly matched the car's interior, and many first-time passengers looked at it with great suspicion (perhaps increased by the fact that the muffler would occasionally shake a bit loose, resulting in a machine-gun-like sound every time I pressed the gas).

Gene Weingarten: I had a 78 Dodge Colt. Made by Mitsubishi. I also had an 84 Colt, which wasn't nearly as good.


Washington, D.C.: I never heard of Aqualung; must be a white thing. When I was in college (pre-MTV), my white roommate was stunned that I had never heard of Pink Floyd, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. I was like dude, "we" don't listen to that stuff.

Gene Weingarten: Ah.


Bellevue, Wash.: This month's Discover magazine includes an article about a French scientist whose last name is "This". This created an interesting challenge when reading as sentences would seem nonsensical until you realized that the first word was not "this", but "This". (For example: This is a molecular gastrologist.)

I wonder if you you've ever run into someone (or written about someone) with a name which would present a similar challenge. Do you attempt to avoid using it in a confusing context, or assume your readers are smart enough to figure it out?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, absolutely. Writing about Yo Yo Ma presents similar challenges. I'm sure there are others. Lemme think about it.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll. I am going to address this subject exhaustively, because it merits it.

Piano Man is a good song with some dreadful flaws, all in the lyrics. I do not know how anyone can argue this is a bad song, though I suspect we will hear from Tim about this, because he considers it appalling. Musically, it is memorable, and the best evidence of this is that it is dancing in all of your heads right now, like it or not. The fact that it is a song about a piano player in a bar, and is sung and arranged as though it were being played in a bar, is interestingly self-referential. I pretend to no musical expertise, so will stop there. Perhaps Tim will explain to us all why this is musically inept.

I do pretend to expertise in words, however, and so will go on for quite a while about the lyrics. This song is about dissatisfied people who delude themselves into thinking they have lives, and who seek each other out in their collective loneliness, and try to drown it in drink. It is about failed ambitions and cowardice in facing life. It is very much about the human condition, and is an ambitious and worthy subject for a song. Joel's choice of the piano bar as a setting for this parable is inspired. There are many successfully evocative lines in this song, as I will detail shortly, including one truly great line that approaches poetry. (And no, almost none of yout found it.) The song successfully sets a compelling scene - playing to the theater of the mind. And its imagery is in some ways rich, evoking all five senses. Taste (gin), sound (piano), smell (beer), sight (smile) and perhaps even touch (shuffling). Thanks to the poster who made that last point.

In short, compared to the enormous canon of unambitious, forgettable songs out there, I simply cannot see how anyone can accuse this one of being a "bad" song.

What prevents it from being a really good song is that, intercut with some very good lines are some laughably terrible lines. I can think of no other song that veers so precipitiously from the sublime to the ridiculous, and back again. Billy really, really, really needed an editor.

Okay, line by line:

Line four is a pretty good line. I like "making love" as a metaphor for an alcoholic's devotion to his drink. I am not at all bothered by the inversion of gin and tonic. I think it is poetic.

You vastly overvalued line five, though it is pretty good The play on memory and melody is a little ooky, but there is a subtly interesting thing about it: "Memory" sounds a little like a drunk-slurred "melody." That elevates it from a weak line to a fairly good line.

"When I wore a younger man's clothes" is a line you could go either way on. Von Drehle thinks it is a terrible and meaningless and stupid line. I disagree. I think it is evocative and understandable.

"As the smile ran away from his face" is a dreadful line. It does not describe the way a smile leaves a face (it drains, more or less), it is childish, AND HE BREAKS TENSE. For no reason, in a song sung entirely in the present tense, suddenly there is past tense. At no point in the year or so it took to produce this song did anyone notice this?

"Real estate novelist." Another controversial line. Even on the Web, this line is questioned as stupid. To me it seems obvious. A guy who wants to be a novelist but is in real estate. It's not great, but it is fine.

Davy-Navy. A childish and silly rhyme, and staying in the Navy for life doesn't exactly parallel the other people who are settling for something less than what they want. I give the line some credit, though, because I think Joel is suggesting a liaison between Davy and Paul, who "never had time for a wife." It may actually be a very good line, for this reason.

The waitress practicing politics: Nice. Elliptical, yet we know what it means. A very good line. Also, it tells us the physical dimensions of this bar. There is only one waitress. This would be maybe my choice for second best line.

"Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness." One of the very worst lines ever written in a rock song. The second worst, in fact. A dreadful, awful, clunking, idiotic, hamfisted, rotten line. Those of you who chose it at the best line - well, I hope you are engineers or something, people who never have to work with words. Why is it so bad? It is stupidly unsubtle, elbowing you with a point the rest of the song is making much more elegantly. The word "loneliness" should never have been in this song. You can actually almost hear how embarrassed Billy is by this line in the way he sings it, with a pretentious, rolling "l" . Almost as if he is mocking it. PLUS the line is wrong. THEY do not call the drink "loneliness." He stuck "they call" in there for the meter, but it makes a very bad line into a shockingly hideous line. Feh. Yech.

Microphone smells like a beer. Good line. Very good line. He's a little soused, too. (The previous line, about the piano sounding like a carnival is also good.)

And then we arrive at the best line in the piece. By far. The last line. "Man, what are YOU doing here?" What does this line do, poetically? Everything. It's the ripe fruit falling from the tree and into your hands the minute you arrive. First, the people at the bar are defining themselves by the place. They are worthy only of a place like this, but why is as talented a guy as the piano player down there with them? Because he belongs there. He is one of them, as are we all. Really, really good.

At the moment I am writing this, only 59 of 1200 people had gotten this, and two of them were Von Drehle and me.

Anyone who got both the best line and the worst line knows something about words.


Cartastrophe: Does your wife RIDE in this? My boyfriend, when I was 15, had a car like it and even then, I could barely make myself ride in it for fear of what substance, floral or faunal, would adhere to my body upon sitting on the "seats" (they were held together by t-shirts as well). If your wife rides in this, as a consenting adult, you must have some kind of hold over here. Sheesh.

Gene Weingarten: My wife will not ride in this car.


Public schools: Isn't the whole idea of "believing in public schools" that you believe in the area where you live and work with what you're given? As long as attentive and involved parents refuse to put their kids in DC public schools, isn't that just going to further their general non-desirability?

Gene Weingarten: This is a difficult topic. If I lived where I live right now, and my kids were in middle school, they would be the only white kids in the school. That is not a burden I wanted to place on them. My preference would have been a school that was totally diverse -- half and half, or close. I wouldn't have hesitated at all if they would have been in the racial minority. But to be the only white kids: I don't think that would have been fair to them.

I understand your point, but this would have been an extreme decision.


Straight Man: overall, women are better looking than men, but I would also like to note that the guy who raised this issue compared Michaelangelo's David to the Mona Lisa. First, David does not look like your average male (even if he were wearing clothes). I could just as easily say men are not good looking, because Pete Rose has bad hair and is a little hefty. Second, Mona Lisa isn't even the hottest female in a classic work of art, so I don't think that's a fair comparison if you're going to be working with artistic ideals.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah. You'd have to compare him with Botticelli's Venus, or something.


Tim Page -- Baltimore, Md.: Hey Gene -

Great to be here with you today, and to go public with our eternal debate about the merits (or lack of same) to be found in Billy Joel's "Piano Man."

OK, I'll grant you that it's not the worst song ever written. It's not downright sociopathic in the manner of "gangsta rappers" such as Tupac Shakur (let alone his even meaner half-brother Sixpac Maltlikkur). It might even be claimed that there are worse lyrics out there - how about Lou Reed's "just like poison in a vial/she was often very vile" from the "Berlin" album, or Brian Wilson's immortal "If Mars had life on it/I might find my wife on it" from "The Beach Boys Love You"?

Still, "Piano Man" is a terrible song: puling, mawkish, and phonier than Dr. Bill Frist's froth over Terri Schiavo. It is the work of a would-be Suffering Artiste who cares more about his pose than his poetry (one can almost choke on the Gaulois smoke rising toward the ceiling fan). I don't believe a word of it.

"Making love to his tonic and gin"??? Talk about swerving across an eight-lane highway for a cheap rhyme! Nobody in history has ever ordered a "tonic and gin" and "making love" to such a creation is only one of the many anatomical impossibilities Billy Joel attempts in this song. "When I wore a younger man's clothes"??? What's our boy doing here -- sneaking into closets like that creepy guy Trump or Imelda Marcos or somebody fired a few years back, surreptitiously trying on the Speedos? "They're sharing a drink they call loneliness"??? Come on - this is "Poor Little Charlie Brown"-level poignancy at its most insipid.

Gene, I can't tell you the worst line in "Piano Man" - there are just too many contenders. But I'm amazed that you didn't number and then give us a chance to vote for the BEST line, which is unquestionably:

"La dee dee da, dee dee dah dahhh."

Now that's poetry!



Gene Weingarten: Okay, then. Thanks, Tim. I continue not to understand how a brilliant guy like you can be so wrong.

I open the floor to debate


Philadelphia Bunnyface: Gene, did you know that several of Jane Austen's female relatives were named Philadelphia?

I wonder if Bunnyface was a corruption of Boniface...

Gene Weingarten: Probably.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: "I never heard of Aqualung; must be a white thing. When I was in college (pre-MTV), my white roommate was stunned that I had never heard of Pink Floyd, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. I was like dude, "we" don't listen to that stuff."

Speak for yourself, buddy. I'm a black woman, and not only was I a rabid Led Zeppelin fan, but also loved Queen, Chicago, as well as Earth, Wind, and Fire, Cameo, etc.

Gene Weingarten: Also noted.


What am I doing here?: Gene, I heartily disagree with you about the quality of the line "Man, what are YOU doing here?" With that line (combined with a few others that preceded it), Joel purports to elevate himself above the others in the bar, whom he obviously regards as pitiful sods. That attitude has always bothered me, though I do think it's a good song overall.

Gene Weingarten: Wrong. You are not reading enough into it.


Best line: This was a difficult poll, because I couldn't separate the objective words from the evocative lines. I picked "microphone smells like a beer" because, for me, that line brings a sharp almost visceral image of that sad, sad bar. It's evocative of the whole feel of the song for me. Maybe it's not the best poetically, but then again if it can evoke the whole song in a single smell maybe it is?

And I picked the drink called lonliness as the line that makes me gag. So do I get a B+ or something?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, exactly. A B plus.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: If "they're sharing a drink they call loneliness" is the second worst line in a rock song, what is the worst?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, clearly that line by Rod Stewart about "letting your inhibitions run wild."


Straight Woman: No question that an attractive woman is much more artistically beautiful than an attractive man. The attractiveness of the male body as a work of art is compromised by the comedic absurdity of its, um, most obvious feature.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I think this is a good point.


Vienna, Va.: "Hahahaha. I have a feeling the girls will disagree with this."

I know, I don't care. But, it doesn't mean that if a woman feels she needs to somehow alter our perceptions then she must not be truly beautiful, just that she is deluded.

To the women: Honestly, there is little as appealing as a female without makeup (or with so little you can't tell). Okay, then, why the obsession with porn -- which features women wearing basically clown makeup?

Gene Weingarten: I totally disagree with that makeup thing. I think I might prefer women without makeup. Though I don't really know, because I am not good at identifying makeup. I once wrote in this chat, a long time ago, that my wife wore no mascara. She later informed me dryly that she has worn mascara every day that I ever knew her. Or maybe eye liner. I forget. Which is the one you always wear, girls.


Washington, D.C.: I'm conservative, like Bush (both kinds), believe in God, and tend to find myself in the minority in these chats either as a result of some political humor or off-color topic. I never felt the need to write-in regarding chat content as I don't really get worked up about much. Until now.

My world hangs in the balance because apparently there are women out there that don't like it when men open doors for them. I was raised quite differently -- to open doors, etc. -- and men like myself probably have a much lower incidence of beating our SO's than men who weren't. But I digress. My question: does this mean I no longer have to give my seat up to women on the metro?


That aside, I have some advice: Unless she is pregnant or handicapped, don't give up a seat to a woman unless you KNOW she is well over 60. Trust me on this, even if I am a liberal.


Worse song line....: "I write the songs that make the whole world sing". Yeah, I bet Osama is singing that song right now!

Gene Weingarten: It is bad. But nothing like the inhibitions line.


Lame, OH: Gene:

Is this the lamest introduction ever written?

Post Magazine

This Week: That's Not Funny!

Hosted by Gene Weingarten

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, May 21, 2001; 1 p.m. EDT

What is the difference between biting satire and satire that bites? We're not sure. But if anyone can answer that question, it is Gene Weingarten, whose weekly humor column, "Below the Beltway" gets more mail than Santa in December. Some readers are angry; others merely mildly peeved. Tell us where you stand. We've come a long way, baby. (Note to Gene: I'm calling the reader "baby"... not you)

Gene Weingarten: Duly noted.


Ambulance? Try Coffin Chasing: OK, so I am a lawyer who recently opened and closed an estate for the sole purpose of moving property of an out of state decedent. The nephew was my client and the decedent died a year ago. Anyway, the point being MY name was on the papers filed in Fairfax.

So today, a week later, I get a letter: "First, let me take a moment to offer my sincere condolences on the paaing of your loved one. While I know this can be a very emotionally sensitive, I also understand that you may be facing some serious decisions with which I might be able to assist you. The reason that I am contacting you is that often times real estate property must be sold in order to pay taxes, pay any outstanding liabilities, and to pay the legitimate heirs.

Often, I buy real estate and other personal property found in estates...." etc, etc.

I almost spit out my lunch as I read the letter.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. This goes beyond ambulance chasing. This is hearse chasing.


Arlington, Va.: Aqualung?

Gene, I'm not sure whether anyone under the age of 40 -- regardless of race -- can hum a few bars of a Jethro Tull song. I ain't 40, sport, and I can.

Gene Weingarten: It also ain't easy to hum a lot of Dylan. Like, say, "Visions of Johanna." You saying Dylan isn't a great songwriter, and that isn't a great song?


Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq: For a man of such discerning taste when it comes to food and humor, what brand of cigars do you smoke? I'm picturing a humidorful of Cohibas clandestinely tucked away chez Weingarten, so please don't tell me it's something dreadful like Black & Milds.

Gene Weingarten: I'll smoke anything. I won't spend a lot of money on cigars, because I consider that too self indulgent. $3, max, except for special occasions. And yes, I do know the difference.


RE: Tim Page: I bet Tim was never a bartender. When I worked at a place that could have been the inspiration for this song, I had regulars that made love to some really bad concoctions. Gin and tonic was one of them. But then again, so was tequila and beer in a chilled schooner. Cheers.

Gene Weingarten: I am wagering Tim was in fact never a bartender.


Tim Page is wrong: and is either one of those "music snobs" who can't stand songs that are popular and more than 10 people have heard, or he's someone who automatically hates a song just because he's heard it too many times. He obviously doesn't want to take the time to deconstruct how well Billy Joel created a scene and one that speaks to almost all of us.

or Tim Page doesn't drink, and so isn't included in the "all of us."

Gene Weingarten: Um, just for the record, Tim is one of the world's most knowledgeable music experts. His criticism has won a Pulitzer Prize. His reviews have been anthologized in books. Just for the record.


Bethesda, Md.: Why is Tim Page writing from Baltimore? Is he on assignment to cover Marin Alsop, or is he another Postie (like Sally Jenkins) who purports to cover an important aspect of our fair city from afar?

Also, why is he a "prodigy"?

Gene Weingarten: Tim lives in B'more, though we used to be neighbors here. And please, what is wrong with living in B'more?

Before he was famous as a critic, Tim was famous as a child prodigy. A movie was made about Little Timmy Page.


Fairfax, Va.: The public school thing is interesting. I am white, my husband is black and when we were buying the house where our children would be raised, we discussed the school thing at great length. We also believed in public school and debated where we should live and ultimately chose an area where the diversity in the school is not nearly what we would have liked. Our eldest son is the only "mixed race" child in his grade but our daughter has several similar looking children in her grade.

It is much harder to find truly diverse schools in this area than I would have thought.

Gene Weingarten: I know. It's bad. My neighborhood is fairly white, yet the local middle school is all black. It is bad. It is very bad.


Gene Weingarten: (By the way, it's a very good school. I dont mean to disparage it.)


Tim Page -- Baltimore: True, I was never a bartender but I worked as a waiter at the Sundown Inn in Storrs, Connecticut throughout 1973 and 1974 and actually played piano in a restaurant around the same time.

For barroom poetry, give me Patrick Hamilton anyday.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, then.


New York, N.Y.: Gene, this is a way outdated comment, but with your poll this week it crossed my mind. Several months back you discussed in an intro about the worst rock song ever being "Seasons in the Sun," which was co-written by Rod McKuen. Well, one of my favorite songs by my favorite band ("California (All the Way) by Luna) has the following line in it:

"he asked her please stop quotin' Rod McKuen in your post cards;

Can't understand it anymore;

And if your gonna read your poetry aloud to me;

I'll have to show you to the door."

Gene Weingarten: I did not say Seasons in the Sun was one of the worst songs ever written. I said that the version of the song by Terry Jacks was awful. The original, by Jacques Brel and McKuen, was extremely good and powerful and dark. A version of this was recorded by the great Tom Rapp, of Pearls Before Swine.


Desperate, husband and wife: Gene, after much consideration and discussion, my wife and I have voted and the decision we made was to ask your wife to take over control of our lives. After all, why should you be the only one who benefits?

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, she's already got her hands full. Note car. Sorry.


Fake Spiderman: I think I need to get my glasses prescription checked. Does it say what I think it says in the first panel of Saturday's Spiderman ?

Gene Weingarten: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.


Race Way City, Iowa: Ethics quiz: The State of New Jersey has two laws, Law A & Law B. Law A makes it a crime for persons operating a motor vehicle upon the highways of the state to exceed 65 mph. This law was adopted by the legislature to save lives and reduce the strain on emergency medical services based upon scientific evidence that the number of people killed and seriously injured in traffic accidents rises exponentially when speeds above 65 mph are involved. Law B makes it a crime to lie under oath to a traffic court judge. This law is passed by the legislature to relieve judges from the burden and angst of determining who is telling the truth, a uniformed state police officer (who has no financial stake in the outcome) sworn to uphold the law and relying on a carefully calibrated radar device or some scruffy looking sack of doody pulled over for travelling 17 mph OVER the speed limit (in a piece of crap Mazda, unsafe at half the speed) and now facing a big fine and substantial increase in his insurance premium. It is ethically proper to violate Law A, but not Law B. Explain.

Gene Weingarten: Hey, take care of that ulcer, buddy.


Washington, D.C.: I can't believe I have been obsessing on this for weeks, but I guess I have been reading your chat too long. I just had to comment: several weeks ago a chatter described going to a pre-Civil war restored southern plantation, and commented on the "9-seater" outhouse, noting that it must have been funny to see ladies in panniers/crinolines trying to negotiate their businees. Hate to break it to you guys, but any woman who could afford the lifestyle that involved hoop skirts would have been using elegant chamber pots in the privacy of her rooms, and some poor slave girl would have had the task of emptying them. As for the other women, they would have been wearing split-crotch drawers (or no underwear at all) that enabled one to get in and out of the outhouse quickly. --Historical costuming fan

Gene Weingarten: Ah. Thank you.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Beyond "Piano Man," the bigger question among many rock and pop fans is why on earth do so many people enjoy Billy Joel and his music?! Yech!

Gene Weingarten: I think he is pretty good, especially the early stuff. Always a Woman. Italian Restaurant. Capn Jack. Good stuff.


Tim is Out of His Mind: He objects to "When I wore a younger man's clothes"?????

The whole point of poetry is to write to paint a picture with words, to have us see something new or something old in a new way. You don't analyze it the way you do a news story. Sheesh!

Gene Weingarten: If it were anyone but Tim doing the objecting, I would dismiss it out of hand.


Tim Page -- Baltimore: As for living in Baltimore, it's a lot faster commute than Reston or even Rockville at rush hour -- about 50 minutes, and you can read on the train. Moreover, it's the only city I know of on the East Coast that still permits and even encourages semi-impoverished individualism.

Gene Weingarten: Excellent point. I love Baltimore. And you can actually buy a nice old house without mortgaging your life.


Northfield, Minn.: "Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth."

This line by Bob Dylan disturbs me. Should it?

Gene Weingarten: It's SUPPOSED to disturb you.


The Town of Round: The great children's singer Barry Louis Polisar once wrote:

Back in the days when the world was flat,

Before Columbus and all of that,

In the town of round there lived a square,

The only square anywhere.

He had no family he had no friends,

All the rounds around would recommend,

He be like them or leave the town:

Squares don't fit in a town for round.

But when you're a square it's hard to move,

Cuz your corners get stuck and you find that you've

got sorta settled and you find it hard

To leave the trees and flowers in your yard.

He's got some other great stuff, about underwear and such. Great interior rhyme, great imagery.

Piano Man has great images. It may be sappy and hokey, but it's exceptionally evocotive. That's why it's a good song with serious flaws. The bit about Paul and Davey is bad, but most of the rest is really good. My problem with the song is I can never remember the order of the lines when I'm drinking and want to sing it. But "We didn't start the fire" I know. I memorized that years ago for a few bonus points in my history class.

Gene Weingarten: I love Barry Louis Polisar. He is sort of a genius at what he does. He sings to 7 year olds about "doodyballs." My hero.


Arlington, Va.: I know that you consider yourself a watch/clock purist. I share your dislike of digital watches, but I was wondering what your take was on other technological advances that have been incorporated into watches. I recently bought an analog watch with a twist. Every night, starting at midnight, the watch synchronizes with the atomic clock in Colorado via a radio signal. I've checked it against the government's official Web site, and to the second, it's been exactly right. In your opinion, is this a bad thing?

Gene Weingarten: No. I personally favor old mechanical watches, but my snobbery does not extend to demanding that all people wear them. My snobbery demands that no one wear a digital. Quartz analogs are fine. I even own one.


Piano Man: How good is it? Compared to what?

The worst line is definitely the smile running away from his face like the dish running away with the spoon. The drink called loneliness is not good, but not as bad as that smile

Gene Weingarten: Well, we are comparing horrors, but, no. The other is worse.


Outra, GE: Enjoyed your column Sunday. But the true horror-as-humor is the penalties you would have faced as a young man when you were in your using days. Both you and our current president managed to avoid "possesion with intent" charges that wouldn't have been nearly as funny to plea-bargain. Of course, you're both white, so it's understandable. The drug laws weren't intended to derail good white kids from their succesful career tracks. We all understand rights of passage, and even look back on them with bemusement. Unless we're black high-school dropouts, in which case we look back on them from our cell bloack.

Gene Weingarten: Well, point taken. But I was possessing heroin in fairly large quantities in New York City during the years of the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. Had I been busted, I would have faced mandatory life in prison. I don't think many white kids walked, either. I knew one who got 15 years for pot.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, guys. Thank you again. I am going to have to stop reporting this, but we've broken the week-old record for the number of posts. I think this here chat might have reached the Tipping Point. Makes me proud.

I'll be updating, as usual. Thanks to all, especially Tim, even if he is still wrong.


UPDATED 2.1.06

Gene Weingarten: Pat the Perfect read the chat transcript, and made two points, both of which are excellent.

1. She contends that I overestimated the line "when I wore a younger man's clothes," because I did not take into account a stunning stupidity: That this is being presented as a DIRECT QUOTE. Billy Joel wants us to believe that the old man says "when I wore a younger man's clothes," which is ridiculous. This is a good point, though I do not agree with Pat that this makes it the worst line in the song.

2. Pat, who has experienced my car, says that the photos do not do it justice, because they do not capture the smell. Just so you know.


Page on McCartney: Question: When did Tim Page say that Paul McCartney was "arguably the most talented surviving Beatle?" Pre 1980, Pre 2001 or today? I mean, the answer could change.

For what its worth, I love the Beatles and even love Sir Paul. I'm trying to convince my "boyfriend" to use "Maybe I'm Amazed" as our first dance.

Gene Weingarten: He JUST wrote it. Of course.


Bethesda, Md.: Hey Gene, remember me? Al Cohen from Al's Magic Shop on Vermont Avenue. I got a real kick out of the article about Eric Knaus, The Great Zucchini. What a wonderful article!

Eric was a regular customer at the shop. He was always a bit strange and not your "run of the mill" magician. He used to tell us that he only performed for pre-school kids. 3-4-5. We used to say "how can you limit your performances to such a limited age group?" Guess who was right. You called him a paradox. Perfect description.

Always enjoy your articles. Regards, Al.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks for writing, Al. I really miss your store.


I haven't forgotten...: Back in October, you wrote in a chat, "I am actually talking with someone about writing a book on dogs. A particular, unusual focus." You haven't discussed it further, at least not with us, your loyal fans. So can you tell us more?

I'm coming up with all sorts of possibilities for that "unusual focus" (Dogs With VPL: Why Do They Try to Avoid It When People Think It's Cute," etc.) but perhaps I'd better let you elaborate.

Gene Weingarten: It is proceeding apace. As soon as the contract is signed, I will explain.


Gene Weingarten: A reader writes:

I'm one of the (apparently just) 5 percent who recognize the genius of the last line of Piano Man. I picked Davy-Navy as the worst for exactly the reasons you mention, but, now that you mention it, I do agree that "drink called loneliness" is atrocious on more levels.

Anyway, if we're discussing the worst lyrics ever, I would have to nominate this famous quatrain from the Steve Miller Band's "Take the Money and Run":

Billy Mac is a detective down in Texas
You know he knows just exactly what the facts is
He ain't gonna let those two escape justice
He makes his living off of the people's taxes...

The only possible excuse I can come up with for this is that he was attempting a parody, so he intentionally crafted the worst lines he could. I mean, usually if you employ a forced not-quite-rhyme, it's so you can get across a really important lyrical point that you couldn't make otherwise. But he forces "facts is" to rhyme with "taxes" just so he can add an inane non-sequitur about the source of Billy Mac's income. And of course "justice" and "Texas" don't rhyme with each other or the other line-enders either. Obviously, many great poems/lyrics have been written in non-rhyming verse, but Miller is clearly trying, and spectacularly failing, to follow a rhyme scheme. And, just for good measure, the words don't fit the meter and he ends up emphasizing the wrong words/syllables.

Worst Lyric Ever.


I would say no, for the simple reason that I think this was intentional. The song is satire, I think. For the same reason, I give a pass to The Turtles' "Elinore," even though it contains the following:

Elenore, gee I think you're swell
And you really do me well
You're my pride and joy etcetera


I really think you've groovy
Let's go out to a movie

It's a joke. Intentionally bad. I think the taxes/facts is is a joke, too.


Apt, but is it funny?: The first person on death row to have his sentence lifted because DNA evidence exonerated him is named Kirk Bloodsworth.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it is.


Silver Spring, Md.: Worst lyric I ever heard was a Van Halen lyric: "And only time will tell/If we stand the test of time".

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha. Pretty bad. It reminds of of "time, slippin' slippin' slipping, into the future...."


Population: Is there an estimation of the number of people who tune in to this chat?

Gene Weingarten: There is not an estimate. There is an exact number. I am not allowed to reveal it. I don't really understand why. It is a surprisingly large number.

_______________________ Some links of interest...

Next Week's Show | Weingarten Chatters Group


UPDATED 2.2.06

Gaithersburg, Md.: I just had to comment on the "Men Rock" guy who stated that he and all of his gay buddies agree that David outshines the Mona Lisa. I am a straight female. All of my straight female friends agree: Women are far more aesthetically appealing, hands down, every time, no contest. The smooth curves of a woman's body, the sleek lines of her legs and back, the narrow waist leading to the swell of hips.. This is pure beauty. Men? No offense intended (I love my man dearly), but men tend to be sharp angles, disproportionate, lumpy, and hairy. No contest.

Gene Weingarten: You've got me all hot here.


Silver Spring, Md.: Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: If "they're sharing a drink they call loneliness" is the second worst line in a rock song, what is the worst?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, clearly that line by Rod Stewart about "letting your inhibitions run wild."

I heart you a million times. My mother and I had a two-day debate about this song. She loved it, and wanted the lyrics to it. This was pre-Internet, so I had to listen to it several times in order to get the lyrics down. I'm not sure I've fully recovered from the experience.

Gene Weingarten: Apparently, not everyone understand the horror. I shall have to explain. See next post.


Huh?: "Dont say a word, my virgin child
Just let your inhibitions run wild
The secret is about to unfold
Upstairs before the nights too old, yeah"

Do you not approve of the attitude of the whole song, or do you not think this fits well?

Gene Weingarten: For this poster and anyone else out there who might either be a Rod-Stewart-Can-Do-No-Wrong worshiper, or, alternatively, who hasn't a clue about what a bad lyric is:

First, in a love song, or any song for that matter, using a plastic word like "inhibitions" is just completely without feel or texture. It demonstrates a tin ear for communication. It would be as though Dylan wrote "Lay lady lay, lay down your quadratic equations and lie across my big brass bed, and take your clothes off, why don't you, while you're at it?"

But, hell. That only makes it a very bad lyric. What makes it the worst lyric of all time is that he is saying the opposite of what he means. Because he is an idiot. To let one's inhibitions run wild would be to become wildly inhibited. To curl into a fetal position, fully clothed, chin tucked to knees, and scream if a man comes near your. Which I am guessing is not what the aptly named "Rod" means, since he also tells her to "spread your wings and let me come inside," which may be the fifth or seventh worst line in history.

How can the same guy who wrote "Maggie May" have written this?


Annapolis, Md.: Re "Washington, D.C.: I'm conservative, like Bush (both kinds), believe in God, and tend to find myself in the minority in these chats either as a result of some political humor or off-color topic."

Both kinds? And he has a problem with "off-color" topics? Sheesh. Perhaps to further discomfit him, may I proffer my favorite masturbation joke (since this topic has yet to be, er, touched today)? From comedian Tom Rhodes: "Yeah, I masturbate in the shower. (Pause) The other guys at the health club don't like it, but hey..."

Gene Weingarten: Ah, thank you. Yeah, I missed that "both kinds" entendre. What a dork. This is also the guy who postulated that liberals were more likely to beat their women.

Actually, I think we can safely conclude that he protesteth too much. Clearly, he has yet to come to terms with his homosexuality, so he is frustrated and beats his wife.


Bethesda, Md.: "If I lived where I live right now, and my kids were in middle school, they would be the only white kids in the school. That is not a burden I wanted to place on them." I am a black parent who moved to Bethesda in 1984, thinking that by the time my children went to Whitman (mid and late 90s), the neighborhood would have diversified. It did not. My children were the only black children in their classes all through school. Do you consider that to be a burden as well?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I do. Didn't you?

Your kids and my daughter were at Whitman at the same time. I am assuming this was not an ideal situation for your kids, no? It wasn't for mine, either. I really didn't like the racial homogeneity there. We had sought good public schools, but overshot our goal. Whiteman (hahaha, that was a typo but I'll leave it) was a superior academic school, and Molly got a great education and a ticket to the Ivy Leagues, but both my wife and I were dismayed how unrepresentative it was of the greater community. I think Molly was disappointed by that, too.


Worcester, Mass.: Piano Man, again: Gene, a chatter wrote:

. . .Joel purports to elevate himself above the others in the bar, whom he obviously regards as pitiful sods. That attitude has always bothered me, though I do think it's a good song overall.

Gene Weingarten: Wrong. You are not reading enough into it.

I agree with the chatter. That song has always bugged me as the ramblings of a self-satisfied snot who clearly sees himself as above the station of the poor sods he sings about.

(The bartender "knows that it's me that they're coming to see" . . .not the drinks, HIM!)

So when they "put bread in [his] jar and say "Man, what are you doing HERE?", he is reminding the listener that he is ultratalented and soon to leave behind the pathetic souls in the bar. As indeed he is, and does, since he is now singing to you from the other end of an FM radio, while the barflies undoubtedly have not moved.

Gene Weingarten: Nope. It would be pointless and stupid to end the song on that note. That last line is meant to resonate with a greater meaning.

Apparently (I am quoting the Web here, so this may be apocryphal) Joel wrote the song during a period when he was starting to get famous, but was in a contract dispute and could not make records. So he was playing at piano bars, and feeling sheepish about it.


Bad lyrics: I recall that Dave Barry has taken issue with Neil Diamond's "I am," I said, to no one there, and no one heard at all not even the chair." I can't disagree.

Another case of a pretty good song with a baaaaaad flaw.

Gene Weingarten: Not a good song, IMHO. I like Neil Diamond (guilty pleasure) but not that song.

Hey, it is time we resurrected a term that I coined a few years ago in this chat: a "sosumi." A sosumi occurs when you just don't like someone everyone else thinks is great. For me, an example is Jimi Hendrix. Another, Chris Rock. Another, Monet. Another, The Bee Gees. Sosumi.

We got more out there? does not endorse Gene's opinion of Jimi Hendrix.


Tonic and Gin: I always thought it meant that the bar was so cheap they gave you more mixer than booze. Sort of adds to the overall sadness.

Gene Weingarten: An interesting interpretation! Probably not authorial intent, but interesting.


UPDATED 2.3.06

That about This: Once I read a headline in The Post that said "Begin To Consider Options." My immediate reaction was "start to consider options about what ?"

So I started to read "Today, Menachem Begin...."

Gene Weingarten: Ah, yes. Right. Also the former prime minister of England, John Major. I believe I mentioned this before, but I was once present at a Washington Post editors' meeting where they were discussing the stories being worked on that day, and the foreign editor got into a hilarious back and forth with the managing editor over whether a certain piece was a "major" story, or not. It was, and it wasn't.


Tonic and Gin: I always thought it meant that the bar was so cheap they gave you more mixer than booze. Sort of adds to the overall sadness.

Gene Weingarten: An interesting interpretation! Probably not authorial intent, but interesting.


Paul and Davy: You're the first straight man I know to see the possible "connection" between Paul and Davy! You are very liberated indeed.

(We gay teenagers seized every opportunity to read way more into things than was probably intended.)

Gene Weingarten: My guess is, this WAS intended. I received a couple of posts from gay guys who say they have always assumed this, right from the first time they heard the song.


Palm Beach, Fla.: "When I wore a younger man's clothes" is like being "as tall as a 6 foot 3 inch tree."

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha. Maybe. That is Von Drehle's argument. But I see it as deeper: He once dressed with more flair and risk, but has settled into a gray middle age.


Silver Spring, Md.: It gets worse. Now I read the rest of what he wrote. I am starting to think that tonic and gin might be the best line. Is Tim too slow to follow? Does he not understand what drink they are referring to? Would me saying I am having a BBQ July the fourth throw him into a Rush Limbaughesque rage? Are you sure this isn't Bill OReilly you are arguing with? He seems about as expressive. LOOK HOW LOUD I AM YELLING!?!?! I HAVE TO BE RIGHT!!!

Gene Weingarten: Right. I would like to point out that Tim's line about Joel being more interested in "his pose than his poetry," was pretty darned good.


Line 21: Paul is a REALISTIC novelist. Duh.

Gene Weingarten: Duh, no. Real estate. Billy Joel has acknowledged this. And I still have no problem with the line.


Bathroom World: Gene,

I need your help to arbitrate this relationship dispute. I am a woman. My girlfriend is also a woman. (You should know as you consider the answer to this that I am a big fan of yours, but she could take you or leave you.)

She thinks we should be able to pee in front of one another for better bathroom utilization. She even thinks poop would be OK, but is willing to not argue the point.

I think peeing in front of each other would be the first significant step on the road to lesbian bed death.

I have acknowledged that when we have youngins, all bets are off because who knows when we'll have time to do anything.

But no youngins yet, so we need rules. What say you? Who wins this battle?

Gene Weingarten: You do, for the simple reason that it makes you uncomfortable. Isn't not making the other person uncomfortable a reasonably important component of love?


Topiary: Eugene, you've said that men who prefer Brazilian'ed women are icky, Girl-Scout-lusting pederasts. I disagree. And I wonder: What Do Lesbians Prefer? Their answer, because we can assume that pedophilia is not a factor for them, should rule the day.

Gene Weingarten: Oooooh. I like this question.

I would address it to the previous posters, plus anyone else qualified to answer.


Buzzard Point, Washington, D.C.: Re: door holding

I once dated a woman who would not move a muscle to open a door if we were together. It grated me, but I was young and I pretended it didn't bother me.

Until I drove 90 minutes through traffic to pick her up for a work function (she didn't have access to car) and since we were in a rush to now drove at least an hour back I didn't get the car door for her. She stood at the door until I got back out of the car, went around and opened it for her. UFB.

We broke up shortly thereafter...

Gene Weingarten: For me, this would be a dealbreaker, too. No second date. Maybe even an abrupt end to date one. I don't want no princesses.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, what I would do is make fun of her, and see how she took that. It's possible this is just obnoxious learned behavior, not a sign of a real dysfunction. But I doubt it.


Gene Weingarten: This just in from Jacob Davenport. Illuminating, and sad.

I went to Bethesda - Chevy Chase High School a few years before Dan and Molly were at Whitman. It was what you wanted. The teachers were good, some were great, and every racial group was strongly represented. It looked like the United Nations. And every economic class was also present.

However, we separated like oil and water. In the cafeteria, you'd see a table of black jocks, table of white jocks, table of rich white kids, table of Hispanic kids, table of Chinese kids, table of druggies, table of chatterboxes, and so on. Wait! There's a diverse table over there! With a few kids of different tenacities and economic status!

Oh, that's the nerds. That's where I sat. We weren't cool enough for the other tables, so we didn't discriminate against anybody.


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