Chatological Humor (Updated 5.18.07)
Tuesday, May 15, 2007; 12:00 PM
At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.
On Tuesdays at noon, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is updated regularly throughout the week, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.
Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.
Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death" and co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca.
New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.
Gene Weingarten: This intro is being posted early, for the benefit of those who happen upon it; it'll give you time to read a long story linked to, below. The chat begins, as usual, at noon.
I am going to begin today with an eerie, Byzantine back story about which I have never before written, for reasons you will understand. I decided to tell it after getting word recently that Audrey Santo had died.
Audrey was 22. From the time she was four, she lived in a persistent vegetative state, the result of a swimming pool accident that had destroyed most of her brain. I first met Audrey in 1998, when I arrived at her home in Worcester, Mass. I was there to do a story for The Post Style section on the strange events that had begun occurring in Audrey's home: religious statuary had supposedly begun to weep oil. During ceremonies of the eucharist conducted in the home, blood had supposedly appeared on the communion wafer. Religious pilgrims from all over the world were coming to Audrey's bedside to pray; the sick, the lame, the blind, the dying arrived by the vanload.
I spent two days in that house, watching Audrey, who was speechless and motionless, and talking to her family, deeply devout Roman Catholics. I took samples of the oil that came from the statues, and had it chemically analyzed by a lab. I spoke at length to the local priests who had become something of a kitchen cabinet to the Santo family, and I talked to the head of the local archdiocese, who kept a wary distance. I believe I came to understand what was going on in that modest home, and why. But telling it would not be easy.
There was a grievously injured child. There was fervent religious faith. There were highly vulnerable people, with easily shattered hopes. There were complex moral and ethical questions, involving, among other things, the manipulation of truth for a greater good.
At the time, I thought this was my best work, ever. But I ultimately came to believe it was a failure. I had miscommunicated. Too many people -- smart, sophisticated readers -- didn't seem to understand what I was saying.
There are two additional oddities related to the story. The first occurred in my hotel room in Worcester, the night I stayed there. As always, when I went to bed, I emptied my pockets and threw the contents on the dresser. In the morning, when I awoke, I saw that the change in my pocket was in the shape of a cross. A nearly perfect cross. I looked at it, then looked left and right -- the room was of course empty -- and did what people do when they are unaccountably upset. I burst out laughing. Cannot explain this event, to this day, except that to be an atheist, one still needs to believe, strongly, in something: Coincidence.
Still gives me the creeps a little, if you want to know the truth.
The second thing that happened occurred the Monday after the story was published, when I answered my phone at The Post.
"Hello, this is Linda Tripp. Do you know who I am?"
This was the summer of 1998. Linda Tripp, the mystery woman of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, was lying low, talking to prosecutors, avoiding the press, the single biggest interview any journalist in America could have nailed, right then.
So, I told Linda, yep, I knew who she was, and implied that perhaps we should meet and discuss things.
She didn't want to do that, at least not yet. She wanted to talk about Audrey Santo. She asked me if I had a theory about what was going on in that house.
I didn't quite know what to say. I felt very strongly that I was being auditioned for something, but I didn't know for what. So I told her a gentle version of what I thought.
Bad decision. This was evidently not what Linda, embroiled in a soul-wrenching, faith-testing ordeal, wanted to hear. The call ended. I did not get the Interview of the Decade.
Here is the wonderful and the infuriating thing about faith: it is always the most powerful argument.
I'll never forget Audrey Santo. May she rest in peace, finally.
Speaking of miscommunication, did you catch the last week of Doonesbury, about the Surge? Did you have a moment of eerie confusion? Did reliably lefty Trudeau seem to be vilifying a Democratic Congress and supporting Bush? It was a terrific week, very deft satire, but you had to be in on it from the start, because if you picked it up midway, you might have felt transported into a parallel universe. Despite this, I hereby declare this week ( M| T| W| Th| F| Sa) of Doonesbury the Comic Pick of the Week.
Please take Today's Poll. I have been tabulating the results on a chart, doing complex actuarial computations, applying standard deviations, and I am coming to the scientific conclusion that YOU ARE ALL A BUNCH OF JUDGMENTAL, SANCTIMONIOUS, HYPOCRITICAL BUSYBODIES.
Seriously, these are some dramatic results. I shall expect you to defend yourselves, anon.
Greenbelt, Md.: A question about the poll: Having dated a 46-year-old when I was 17, and believing we were deeply in love at the time, I feel quite cynical about both scenarios. I know there is a big difference between 17 and 25, but the biggest things that tore us apart, the age related cultural differences and lack of support, would still be present. Thus I automatically think in terms of my own experiences and the poor choices we both made. But when I meet actual May-Decemberists, I honestly feel joy that they are brave enough to try, and that I'm not alone in having participated in such a culturally stigmatized relationship. Should I answer "admire them both" or "not like/respect both?"
I guess I pass judgment on the concept but admire the application. Is that possible, or am I being reversely hypocritical in some way?
Gene Weingarten: Sorry, I know you are sincere, but there is zero parallel between your situation and what is being postulated here. That cardinal number 17 overwhelms everything.
A girl of 17 is a child. A woman of 25 is a woman. I'm not sure where the dividing line is -- I suspect there are 20 year old women and 23 year old girls -- but there are no 17 year old women.
Washington, D.C.: Please don't take this personally, but why on Earth should we believe there was a man from Sierra Leone by your gate? This was the perfect way to end your column, and the lesson was just as good if you made it up. No harm, no foul, right?
washingtonpost.com: Going the Extra Yard, ( Post Magazine, May 13)
Gene Weingarten: Ah, very good. Yes, I did make that up, for the purposes of giving the column a poignant end. As you point out, there is a certain emotional truth to the situation, even if it was not literally true. People in Sierra Leone did suffer horribly, and the lesson about priorities and perspective remains valid. It reached a literary truth even if I exercised license with the facts.
Gene Weingarten: Gad, these last fifteen seconds were hard on me. My heart is thumping here, just having that out there.
No, I didn't make it up. But saying I did seemed like an effective way of proving something: Didn't you feel a wave of revulsion? Didn't you feel mistreated?
I am often surprised when readers write in idly wondering whether I made up some conversation or whether some event in my family had actually happened as I described it -- as though a little creative lying is okay in the interests of telling a story or cracking a joke.
It's not okay. There is a basic, unstated covenant between a writer and a reader; you are entitled to believe that you are being told the literal truth. You rely on that to know what to make of things, how to react, but I rely on it, too. Most humor gets its punch from the fact that it is true. If the reader has a doubt in her mind, everything I write loses some edge.
Yes, the man was real. His name is Abu. He works at Hayden's Liquor on SE 7th St. He is quite a remarkable guy.
Arlington, Va.: Gene,
You have explained your claim to be a lesbian trapped in a man's body as relating to a certain activity, but the fact that every single picture of you features a prominently non-lesbian feature on your upper lip makes me wonder who you are trying to fool. It seems to me that you like to think of yourself as sensitive to a woman's interests, but I have to doubt that you are as attuned as you seem to think.
washingtonpost.com: I can't believe I'm sending this through.
Gene Weingarten: I can't believe she is, either.
Uh, I deny the truth of your assertion. Are there any women who will dare to opine about this?
I love this chat.
Poll: I am SHOCKED about the poll results. Being one of the three Republicans who participate in your chat, the last poll was a bit uncomfortable. Here, at least, was a poll where I could honestly match the tolerance of your more liberal chatters. But a majority of the people have gotten their knickers in a twist over this. I don't understand.
You hit my limits in terms of age perfectly. 21 years old would have changed my answer and 65 years old, likewise, would have changed my answer. But 25 and 50 -- these are people that would all be working together and can do the same types of activities and could have the same interests. Boy, there is a lot of intolerance for something that really doesn't affect anyone else.
Gene Weingarten: I'm stunned. Honestly. I did not expect this and I don't entirely know what to make of it, and I am awaiting the explanations. Cause this is a very smart group of people, and someone will be able to defend this. I hope.
Rebuttal to the Poll Results: I am a woman in my mid-20s. I am dating a man in his late-40s.
With very few exceptions, I never had much luck dating guys my own age. There aren't many with whom I share a lot of interests; how close you live to the bar is not the kind of detail that's likely to make me swoon and drop my pants. I don't want to stereotype all young guys here, but this has largely been my own experience.
My boyfriend isn't wealthy; you couldn't call me an opportunist. I'm intelligent and independent; you couldn't call him a chauvinist. So why am I in this situation when I could date someone who makes so much more "sense?" Well; how can you ask anyone why they're in love? He's intelligent and kind and funny. I admire and respect how he lives his life and treats the lives around him. I connect deeply to the way he experiences places and moments and music; the world. And beyond all the characteristics that someone could argue I might find in someone else, there is that quality, elusive to words, that transcends the "why." It just is.
One thing it's not is easy. Just look at the poll results. Others will always assume they know your story before they've heard a word. They'll willingly identify the limits of your relationship for you: clearly, you can't get married! And even if you did... well, surely you don't intend to have children, right? Look at that couple -- clearly they're deluded. Clearly they're using each other. Cynicism is always the quickest and easiest response.
I have known plenty of people -- friends and family -- who have made practical, logical choices against their true feelings and visceral instincts, and deeply regretted it. I have seen people I love live in relationships that made them somewhat satisfied at best and considerably unhappy at worst.
I've watched people live vibrant, beautiful, healthy lives well into their eighties and nineties. I've seen others die of illnesses in their thirties and forties, when their paths should just be starting to unfold.
If you told me right now that I had five years left to live, and asked me who I wanted to spend them with, there would be no doubt in my mind how to answer. Shouldn't that be the truth you live by? Anything can happen to anyone, at any time. I'd rather have five, ten, fifteen wonderful years than a long lifetime of vague discontent, or -- worse -- regret. It's true, I would never have pictured myself here before I met this person. I have no idea what will happen. It's not ideal, not by any stretch of the imagination. It's not perfect. But I do not apologize for it. Love happens. It happens randomly, in ways both remarkable and remarkably inconvenient. Love happens in shades of gray, and only those in it can truly understand its depth and navigate its complexities.
The fine poet Mary Oliver wrote: "you only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves." These are not simple words to live by, but I think they are the key to living well.
Even if this relationship ended tomorrow, I would at least walk away knowing better than to ever cast a cold glance at anyone who dares to be happy living the life they choose, whatever that means, however far it may be outside the realm of what is commonly accepted and condoned. Some people might call it a mistake to continue an inherently complicated relationship across a distance of so many years. I think the mistake would be to let anyone else's willingness to judge me -- or him, or us -- impact the life I choose to live, who I live it with, or how happy I might be, for who knows how long.
Gene Weingarten: Boy, this post just got better and better as it went along, didn't it? Thank you.
Not For, ME: Have you tried to talk to a 25-year-old girl lately? Not in a creepy way, just at all? They're all like "nuh-uh," and you're all like "uh-huh," and then the diva thing starts up and you realize that, if anything, they're suffering from too much self-esteem. Hey, I love sex as much as the next guy, but it's hard to imagine how great the sex would have to be to put up with that for the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day.
Or, put another way: Jessica Lange vs. Jessica Simpson? No contest. Ben Franklin was right.
Gene Weingarten: I hear ya, and as generalities go, yours isn't so bad. But does the previous poster sound like the "nuh-uh, uh-huh" type?
Methinks were all all being guilty of pigeonholing.
Disturb, IA: Anent the poll: An older man/younger woman relationship immediately suggests to me a stereotypically loveless relationship; he wants her sex, she wants his money, which is fine for them but they are both dead to me. But I believe the older woman/younger man relationship is about love, not sex and money. This troubles me because of what it suggests about my prejudices: that it's much harder for a young man (heh) to seek out an older woman for money.
What does this say about me? Am I wrong to be prejudiced in this way? Or is it simply that I believe all men prefer sex to money, and wouldn't choose this route? Please interpret, O wiseacre. I mean, wise one.
Gene Weingarten: I'm gonna put in my poll analysis now, real early. Cause I want to generate some answers.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll. As has become clear by now, I am mystified by your answers, partially because, when it comes to relationships between others, I am an agnostic. I don't know, and I don't much care. The details, the nuances, aren't a source of wonder to me.
Many years ago Gina Barreca and I were at a party. After about a half an hour, she pulled me outside, and was almost beside herself with excitement. She began to decipher relationships I was completely unaware of, and these were people she had never met before: This guy clearly had had a secret relationship with so and so's wife - I mean, it was OBVIOUS, couldn't I tell from the body language? - and so and so was no doubt the former beau of so and so, but can't show it because so and so was all over that one over there, and couldn't you see whatsername seething? Etc. I had never seen Gina so happy. I had no idea what she was talking aobut.
Here's the thing: Later developments suggested she was right about EVERYTHING.
I think this interest/non-interest in relationships was a gender-based thing, and the poll results do suggest this, but not to the degree I had guessed. The guys are pretty damn judgmental, too?
I say, who cares? A couple seems happy, fine. Give them the benefit of the doubt, if no other reason that I don't want to waste time thinking and deconstructing.
I have to say that the results so far suggest just a little bit of hypocrisy, no?
I'd argue that, so far, it looks as though younger men and older women are particularly lacking in empathy. The young guys can attribute the relationship to love where the man is there age and the woman is older - but not the reverse. Similarly, older women will admit to the possibility of love where the woman is older and the man is younger - but not the opposite. In other words, they're both willing to cut this couple some slack only if they can see THEMSELVES in this relationship. Not good.
Mostly, though, I'm surprised at the ladies in general. Pretty, pretty cynical, ladies.
I love you, but please explain.
Dulles, Va.: I think you judge yourself too harshly by saying the article failed. I think you made a very good point with the close -- that somehow, however it happened, this little girl brought joy or peace or closure to so many, and that's a little miracle in itself. As you discuss earlier in the article, sometimes people focus too much on the big miracle that they miss the everyday ones, like the sun rising every morning. The woman got her husband back; that's a miracle.
Gene Weingarten: Well, that was my point. But I cannot TELL you how many smart people -- even cynical journalists -- wondered if I was acknowledging the supernatural. Something in how I did this was wrong.
Providence, R.I.: I remember the Audrey Santo well, living so close to Worcester. I had a long debate with a friend years ago about whether or not it was a coincidence that her last name was Portuguese for Saint.
Gene Weingarten: Her parents were well aware. Linda Santo told me that her goal from the moment Audrey was born, was that she would someday be a saint. I found that telling.
Animal Farm: Molly wrote in last week to explain that jargon (in particular, medical) allows those in the know to speak more precisely and concisely to their peers. Did it affect your opinion on the value of jargon? What's your response?
Also, are you, in fact, as she claims, an idiot?
Gene Weingarten: Molly nailed me. Brilliantly. She was right.
Someone else wrote to ask if I thought it appropriate that my daughter spoke to me that way. It was not only appropriate, it is exactly how we talk to each other. If you think this is a bad thing, you are probably not the father of a daughter.
Liz, can we link to this, from last week's update?
The Supreme Being: Last week, you said that athiest should not be in a position to prove that God does not exist. Instead you proposed that believers should have to prove that God does.
Of course you know that both are impossible. First, you can't prove a negitive. So it is impossible to prove that God does not exist.
As for proving that God does exist, that is impossible too. That is why believing in God is called "Faith". A great line about faith is: "If don't have faith, no amount of evidence will be good enough. If you do, none is required."
As for me, I am a beliver in the Catholic tradition.
Gene Weingarten: This post is based upon this exchange last week:
Silver Spring, Md.: I get really annoyed when people say there's evidence that suggests there's no deity. You can no more disprove the existence of God than you can prove it. At best, you can prove that God does not work in a certain manner. You can prove that the species involved rather than bursting in their totality from Eden, but this is not proof that there is no deity. The idea that a human mind can rationalize and understand the actions of supreme being is pretty arrogant, especially when we're struggling to explain our own actions much of the time. After all, do we expect animals with less developed mental capabilities to understand all the actions of humans?
Gene Weingarten: Well, here's where we differ: I would argue the burden of proof is on the deity-believer. I would argue that there is no reason to believe in the supernatural, since nothing we know of is explained by the supernatural, and since the march of science has been a steady, relentless dismantling of presumptions of magic.
This is kind of obvious.
So, I would argue that it's not good enough to say, hey, just because the bible seems to say the world is 6,000 years old, and we now KNOW it is billions of years old, and creatures didn't just appear, as the bible says, but evolved from tiny organisms, God could have made that ALL happen.
Yes, sure. Sure, could have. But it is up to you to prove to me why that explanation makes more sense than assuming a continuation of science as we know it -- that in time ALL mysteries will be solved, and there will be no magical explanation for any of it.
This isn't rocket science. Your position is defensive. If tomorrow scientists produced DNA in a jar by replicating conditions on earth 2 billion years ago, and showed how that could have happened by pure chance using the elements around, you'd STILL say, "yeah, but who put the elements there in the first place?"
Okay, fine. Big guy, white beard.
Hey, who put HIM there in the first place?
I stand my ground. This is not about proving negatives. This is about the application of logic in deconstructing the events of the last 10,000 years.
washingtonpost.com: Molly Weingarten: You are an idiot. A "deliberate" attempt to confuse? Most medical words sound long and scary when you first hear them, but they have a valid and useful existence. They are a way to say exactly what you mean in as few words as possible. I could ask you for the patient's age, breed, sex, and reproduction status (intact or not) or i could just ask you to tell me the "signalment." Also, just because there is a "real" word for something and a "common lingo" term for something does not make the correct term any less valid. When talking to an owner, I would ask if the dog has a "nosebleed." When recording something in a medical chart to be read by my colleagues, I would use the correct big girl term "epistaxis." To be perfectly honest, it more clearly tells me what is going on. I wouldn't say that a bleeding cut on the nose constitutes epistaxis. But an owner might see blood on the nose and assume it is a "nosebleed." Just like an owner might come in 'cause the dog has a runny or snotty nose. While I might use those words when talking to the owner, to my colleagues I would classify the discharge as serous, mucoid, mucopurulent, hemorrhagic, etc. beause just by adding that descriptive term, the list of differential diagnoses changes drastically. By the way, "differential diagnoses" is our deliberately confusing way to say "list of possible underlying causes that could be responsible for the varied signs I am being presented with."
Alexandria: I am a man over 45 and my answers were most like the top answers for women under 35; in all groups "boytoy meets financial support" was the most popular for one question, I chose "Feminist makes a statement."
You're poll has me thinking I'm screwed up once again. Other than Demi Moore, how often do women marry younger men anyway? And should I focus on dating women under 35 since they seem the most sensible thinking group to me?
washingtonpost.com: Naveen Andrews and Barbara Hershey... Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky.
Gene Weingarten: Who the hell is Naveen Anderews?
Washington, D.C.: I just want to say in response to the poll that I was HONEST... just like you directed me to be. I want to say that I am judgmental because I am 23 and my father is about 57. The hypothetical situation is 25 and 50-55. This is not far off from my dad's and my ages. I am adopted... I am Asian and my father is white and Jewish. My biggest fear when we go out together is that people will mistake us for husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend and that creeps me out to no end. I judge and fear of being judged.
washingtonpost.com: Wow, the Woody Allen/Soon Yi Previn Effect.
Gene Weingarten: Thanks. That IS honest.
Arlington, Va.: Last week, Chatwoman used this as a defense: "Remember, this is a man who admits to loving plain hot dogs."
What's wrong with a plain hot dog? Mustard and ketchup are just there to hide the taste of the delicious left over parts of a cow. Without them, you taste the hot dog as it truly was meant to be. Bonus points if it is Kosher or from Nathan's on Coney Island (the rest of the Nathan's pale in comparison).
washingtonpost.com: Why spoil vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce? Who needs wasabi and ginger?.
Gene Weingarten: There are people who put A-1 Sauce on a steak, and people who do not.
There are people who drink whiskey sours and people who take fine bourbon, straight up.
There are people who salt their food before they taste it, and people who do not.
There are children, and there are sophisticated adults.
washingtonpest.com: Oh, so sophisticated adults prefer plain hot dogs and milk chocolate? Can I get you some mac and cheese with that?
Gene Weingarten: I am getting in the final word here.
Washington, D.C.: I once was a retail copywriter in a pen of copywriters, most of whom did a lot of freelance on the side to satisfy their more writerly leanings. After reading an article by a fellow copywriter on a local activist, I commented on how cool it must have been to have shadowed her as mentioned in great detail in the beginning of the piece. "Oh I never met her in person." she said. But you wrote about her worn hands and her appearance, I said. "Yeah, that's just something journalists do." she said dismissively and left me standing there with my mouth open.
Gene Weingarten: There are two kinds of journalists: Those who lie and those who do not. The first group is eventually caught.
Baltimore, Md.: We had a guy in our office in his 50s who was married to a Russian woman in her 20s. After the initial "what page was she on in the catalog" jokes, no one really cared.
I saw her a few weeks ago. They are in the process of divorcing because he was too immature. Age generally has little to do with it. You love who you love.
Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.
The Great Midwest: Thought you might enjoy this headline and sub-head from todays CBS news website:
Nudists Seek Younger Following
Graying Nudist Groups Reach Out To 20- And 30-Somethings
Gene Weingarten: How appropriate to today's poll!
Small Claims hamstringing: Hi Gene,
I'm in an ugly, and getting-expensive small claims suit, trying to recover $2,000 from a former roommate who basically took our buyout money and ran. She lives in another state now. I've discovered that to transfer my already-won judgment from D.C. to her state and do the whole lien/forced sale of property will cost me $800, and may take months. No guarantee I'll get that $800 back; apparently it's at the discretion of the judge. Argh...
All this BS has been going on since October, and I've probably put in 100+ hours and $250 on paperwork, Kinko's, phone calls, process server, and a trip to her state. Part of me just wants to drop it all and invest in a voodoo doll, but the idea of her getting away with it just sticks in my craw. What would you do? And can you make light of any of this for me? I could use a laugh!
Word to the wise for anyone contemplating small claims court. It totally favors the defendant, and like all bureaucracies, is designed to wear you down so you'll give up your case. If the defendant doesn't own property, then the only real damage you can do is to hurt their credit rating, which in my case, means nothing to my deadbeat former roommate.
Gene Weingarten: I would never sue anyone for $2,000. The aggravation isn't worth it, and experiences like yours are more common than not. I would try to solve this in any way that doesn't involve public proceedings, and give up if it were impossible.
Just yesterday I got beat on an ebay sale. The guy took my money, sent the wrong item, and suddenly stopped answering emails. Clearly, he intends to walk away from this. The price was $20.
I am simply walking away from it, too. Not even leaving him negative feedback, because that will start the wave of retaliation. Not worth it.
Obviously this is the subtext of my column from Sunday.
Harold and Mau, DE: I think it is possible to have a meaningful relationship with someone much older. I am quite shocked by the poll results. Finding anyone on this earth that makes you truly happy is a rare thing. Anyone who knows what it means to love and be loved would not have been so judgmental.
Gene Weingarten: Well, I would say that your last line is pretty ... judgmental.
Virginia Beach, Va.: Hey Gene-
I am shocked at your response to the questioner in last week's updates about dog owners falling in love with non-dog people. I always enjoy reading about Molly, and with your apparent love of your new pup, I can't believe you seemed to accept that some people would surrender a dog to please someone else, even though you wouldn't. When a person voluntarily acquires a pet, they accept lifetime responsibility for that pet. You can't sit the pet down and explain that "yes, its been fun, but you know, you aren't a puppy anymore, and Jane doesn't really like you, so we are leaving you behind". My husband has been aware since we got our dogs from rescue that if he ever decided to force me to choose between him or the dogs, I would miss him but he could pack his bags. He can take care of himself- the dogs can't. How could someone who has loved and cared for an animal even continue to date, much less marry, a person who would expect them to give up a pet? That should be a huge, waving red flag that the person has serious issues. What else would they be expected to give up in the future? Contact with parents? Favorite hobbies? Friendships? Yes, some people fear dogs, but if they love you they will try and work through the fear, or not get involved in the first place.
Gene Weingarten: So what if your fiance is deathly allergic to your dog?
There are exceptions, dude.
Arlington, Va.: Former Senator Fred Thompson has a much younger wife although she is probably somewhere around 40, but at one of those press dinners she showed up with an extremely low cut dress and that made me feel, tolerant though I think I am, that there is something wrong with a relationship like that, something akin to Anna Nicole and her 90 year old husband.
Gene Weingarten: C'mon, 25 and 55 is not 25 and 90.
Washington, D.C.: I once had an older man (more than 25 years older, maybe closer to 50) interested in me. I thought I was being kind to the elderly. He thought he had a shot. Your side produces some deluded little dumplings, doesn't it?
Gene Weingarten: So long as it happens once in a million times, every man will feel he has a shot.
Gene Weingarten: Men are like that.
UNC Chapel Hill, N.C.: Yes, when you posted that you lied about the guy from Sierra Leone, I did feel mistreated -- actually, I felt hurt. I don't know you at all, but after years of reading your articles and lurking around and occasionally writing in to these chats, I came to the conclusion that you don't lie to us in your articles. And to think for a few seconds that you did, well, yep. It kinda hurt.
Gene Weingarten: I know. And that's good.
Better with a beard!: Ok, while my husband looks dang sexy with a couple days growth, I usually avoid any serious kissing during his unshaven times because it is just too hard on the face.
However, certain other activities?? Even better...seriously. It's getting him to provide the certain other activities but refusing to kiss him that's the hard part.
Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.
There's no OTHER hard part?
Trophy Husba, ND: I took the poll with a fair amount of bias -- my father's second wife was literally half his age, and only 11 years older than me. As an adult, I perceive their relationship to be mid-life crisis meets (craven, grasping, manipulative) opportunist. In answering the poll, however, I wasn't nearly as judgmental of older women who date/marry younger men. I think this is sad from two perspectives -- do we assume that younger people, whether male or female, bring only their nubile bodies to a May/December relationship? And that only men are capable of lecherous behavior?
Incidentally, my then-stepmother left my father for a man at least 12 years his senior. They now have a child younger than his grandchildren. I find this deeply disturbing.
Gene Weingarten: This sounds like the beginning of an "I'm my own grandpa" phenomenon.
In the shadow of St. Matthew's Cathedral: Fifty-two-year-old altar boy here.
What I got from "It's a miracle, says the Washington Post" is that Linda Santo turned what could, maybe should, have been a life-crushing event into something livable, if only on terms that wouldn't be livable or defensible for most people. And that she compensates by allowing a lie (or two, or three) that pales in comparison to the lie (God Doesn't Care) of the event itself.
And that's a miracle.
Faithfully yours in Patrick Cardinal O'Boyle,
Gene Weingarten: Thank you.
Burke, VA: Gene, I need some funny. Jokes, stories, something to distract me from my thoughts and part of it is your fault.
Last week's chat totally got to me. I'm expecting a baby (the doc is inducing me on Thursday!) and now I'm not only agonizing over ignoring the thoughts of labor and delivery but I'm avoiding worry about development problems. We had the ultrasound early which should that the structure was sound but decided not to have the tests so we wouldn't have to make the decision.
I've had a good pregnancy but am starting to get totally freaked out. Do you know I'm expected to know how to raise a child?!? Shouldn't I have gone to school for this? Get a certification or something? Sorry, I'll start breathing now. Talk about overwhelming life changes. Some jokes would help, right?
PS I emailed you last summer for some infertility jokes but you weren't comfortable coming up with them. Turns out I didn't really need them much longer anyway! But I appreciated the effort.
PPS Today's my birthday.
Gene Weingarten: Raising a child is 50 percent common sense and 50 percent physical and emotional endurance. You'll do fine.
Organ Donation: Gene,
Only because of the way you posited the comment, I want to point out another point of view. You said "Who gives a crap about what happens to one's organs after one dies? The presumptive position should be that they go to whoever needs em."
I care. I am not an organ donor because I don't agree with the practice of replacing body parts to extend life. 50 years ago when transplants were first performed, many people (the majority) felt it was wrong, playing God, evil science, etc. Now, because it is common, it is "supposed" to be accepted by everyone. But cloning humans is wrong, playing God, evil science, etc. Just because something CAN be done doesn't mean it SHOULD be done. However, I would never tell anyone they are wrong to participate in organ donation (either giving or receiving). I choose not to participate, and yes, it is in my living will and my doctor is well-aware (I have cancer so the topic has come up).
And, by the way, a woman can easily find out if a guy is married without having to employ another guy to ask the question, assuming that the "target" guy is at least in his 20s. Just ask him what his wife does for a living. If he isn't married, he'll say so, otherwise he'll tell you her occupation and he will think something he did/said indicated he was married.
Gene Weingarten:1. Well, then you have no problem with my system. You can opt out. I daresay you are in the minority in terms of feeling that organ transplantation is the work of Satan.
2. "What does your wife do for a living?" is a perfectly legitimate question. But if it comes from a woman who doesn't know you well enough to know if you have a wife, it is also a pretty direct clue that she is really asking, "So, do you have a wife?" Men are insensitive clods, but they are not THAT insensitive.
Testing the waters: And this will be tremendously unpopular, but I am fascinated by the poster using this line...
"As for me, I am a beliver in the Catholic tradition."
But tradition is not faith at all, just a series of actions that in some way approximate faith.
Tradition is visiting the sites of holy relics and modern miracles searching for healing; faith is understanding that when you need it, God will heal you too.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, in that Audrey Santo story, I concluded that the people who were traveling from miracle site to miracle site -- they were on, like, an international "miracle tour" had no faith at all. They considered themselves pious, but they were walking around demanding proof. The antithesis of what Jesus taught.
Arlington, Va.: I don't think it makes someone a man-hating feminist to note that relationships are formed in the context of power imbalances in our society.
I expect adults to be able to deal with those imbalances and build equal, loving relationships most of the time.
But when I see an older man with a younger woman, I see both age and sex advantaged to one partner.
You didn't ask about our reaction after the course of a conversation, in which I'd be more than happy to suspend judgment until I'd heard them out. You asked about our first reaction knowing nothing else. And that's the first thing that comes to mind.
Gene Weingarten: Understood.
It's a reasonable answer. All I'm saying is that I think my first assumption would be the same as with any couple: They're in love. Then let's see what else plays out.
Ogden, Utah: My beloved 93-year-old aunt had a guy about 70 sniffing around about 10 years ago. She dismissed him with "at my age, all they want is a nurse or a purse."
Don't know how it fits the poll, but cute nevertheless.
Gene Weingarten: Never heard that. Nice.
Monkey County: While I completely agree with you about small claims court, I have to disagree with the eBay thing. I know it is only $20, but this guy is likely going to continue to use eBay to sell things. Other eBay-ers deserve to know who not to deal with. Wouldn't you have wanted a bit of warning that this guy was a loser? A former roommate is hard to hurt and hard to warn others about. A businessman on eBay is entirely another thing. Just ignore the retaliations.
Gene Weingarten: You can't ignore it if you are an occasional ebay user, and each retaliatory negative knocks your score down 5 percent, or whatever.
New York, N.Y.: False aptonym alert! Adrian Higgins in his Garden Plot chat this morning said this: "There is a classic book called the Grafter's Handbook by R.J. Garden."
Alas, I looked up the book and the author is R.J. Garner. I guess that was a Freudian slip of an aptonym.
Gene Weingarten: Shame on him! This just hurts us all in the field of aptonymics.
The Brookfields: While you were at the Santo's house, you were mere miles from the home of the woman who would eventually become the final survivor of the Titanic. Coincidence?
Gene Weingarten: No, it was the hand of God.
The poll: You asked us to be honest, so I was. And honestly, I am a judgmental witch.
FWIW, my husband is only 10 years older than me and we don't completely have the same cultural references. it can be tough. The first time I met his friends we played this 80s board game. I was born in 80. my team lost. My stepmom is also 6 months younger than my husband. awkward! 25 years is a lot. too much, in most cases I think. but at the same time I have sympathy/respect/admiration for an older woman who bags a younger guy b/c the old woman is like the least attractive person in our society, so to speak.
Gene Weingarten: I think women over 40 can be among the hottest creatures on the planet.
Fairfax, Va.: I'm not so sure I'd agree with you that the people are on an international miracle tour. I look at it more with sadness than condemnation -- they have some need or something missing that they feel forced to search these out. Or they have something so completely wrong with them (disease wise) and are so desperate to continue living that they will do anything.
My aunt had cancer, untreatable. She went to miracle sites because she believed that the possibility of healing from them was there. It wasn't -- at least for her -- but that's a big part of the crowd, I think. People who DO believe and have a desire or even a need to be affected.
Gene Weingarten: Well, I talked to these folks, a lot of them. Many were simply tourists, complete with the fanny packs and Bermuda shorts. They also had rosaries.
Some were sick. Many of the sick ones had "fibromyalgia" and / or "chronic fatigue syndrome."
Love of Dog: Giving up your dog, for most people, is heart wrenching. I know of a girl who is going overseas for a year and is looking for someone to take (not watch) her dog, otherwise she is going to the shelter/rescue group. Being a dog lover, and owner, I can't imagine how she can't find SOMEONE to dog-sit, yes a year is a long time, but c'mon, or at least figure out a boarding situation.
Given that I am a sucker, I mean good person, I convinced my brother that he really wanted a husky (not that hard, he's looking for a puppy right now anyway) and we're currently in negotiations with the girl. Then, after rushing us to let her know, she stopped calling. For 2 weeks. Our mutual friend says she's gone off the map.
So yes, there are situations when you will/would/could give up your dog, but it isn't something that is done easily.
Afterthought: IF we actually get the pup, is it wrong to rename a two-year-old dog?
Gene Weingarten: Don't rename a two year old dog! Unless the new name sounds a lot like the old name. Talk about instilling a neurosis. Dogs don't know all that many words; their own names are important, and a comfort to them.
Condiments: I hate ketchup, but not because I dislike its taste. Who doesn't like sweet salty stuff? I dislike it because it has such a strong, simple flavor that it overpowers the flavor of the thing you're eating. I guess you could say that hot dogs have a simple flavor that ketchup doesn't really disrupt, but whatever -- I don't really eat hot dogs either.
A1 just hides the flavor of a good steak. Wasabi compliments and enhances the flavor of a nice piece of tuna. Condiments can have wildly differing results.
washingtonpost.com:1. Maybe you're using too much ketchup.
2. Have you ever tried natural, unsweetened ketchup? It's soooo much better.
Gene Weingarten: Have you ever tried actual herbs that don't overwhelm everything?
St. Mary's City, Md.: Gene,
This site has an ongoing debate over your Joshua Bell piece and the recent criticism of it on Salon. Of particular interest is the response from the site's host, an award-winning fantasist and essayist. According to Ellison, the Salon writer who slammed you as an elitist snob was himself engaging in elitist snobbery. The debate surprises me, because I wouldn't have occurred to me to see your article as elitist.
Gene Weingarten: I don't mind criticism of my work; in fact, I sort of revel in criticism of my work. It's fun, and when it's right it keeps me honest. But that Salon piece was a piece of crap. It reads as though the writer hadn't even read it, but was reacting to what he presumed I was going to say. Liz, can you link to it?
washingtonpest.com: Audiofile, ( Salon.com)
Based Locally: Is this the future of journalism: California Newspaper Outsources Reporting, ( AP, May 13) Seems ominous, at least at first.
Then again, how is this different from syndication? When your column is published in the Podunk Ledger-Picayune, aren't you potentially displacing a locally-based humor journalist?
Gene Weingarten: I have just finished a column based on this selfsame news story.
And, yes, I suppose that theoretically I am guilty of "outsourcing" my writing to those newspapers that buy my column. I'm the equivalent of "Fred" from Bangalore, at the other end of the customer service line.
I'm all for newspapers having home-grown humor columns.
The problem is, if a paper didn't buy my column, I strongly suspect it just wouldn't run humor at all. Humor columns aren't cost effective; they take more time than you'd think. Under modern myopic newsroom resource allocation, most papers would rather have their writers working on basic coverage, and not offering droll observations.
Case in point: James Lileks losing his column at the Minneapolis Star. Present company included, there may have been no better humor writer in the country. Now they have him watching local government meetings.
Crime watch: Man Suspected Of Killing Prostitute With A Hoe-- the suspect's name is John Freeman
Gene Weingarten: Is there such a thing as an aptonymic murder weapon?
Arlington, Va.: Gene,
This poll is invalid and makes no sense. We have no idea how attractive any of these people are. I'm a male, younger than 35, and thats the only thing I care about! If someone my age is shacking up with a babyboomer who looks like Sigourney Weaver... my judgments are likely to change than if he's dating just a plain old hag.
Appearances are HUGE in perceiving such relationships...but then maybe I'm the one who is being immature.
Gene Weingarten: Ya think?
Washington, D.C: Ketchup is an abomination of both God and Man.
washingtonpost.com: No. Heinz ketchup is an abomination.
Gene Weingarten: Ketchup is okay on fries, because most fries -- frozen pulpy crap -- taste even worse than ketchup. It's like putting sugar on puke -- gonna improve it, a little.
Apropos of very little...: I want to give a shout out to the woman who quoted a snippet of a Mary Oliver poem in her post. That is from my favorite poem, "Wild Geese." It is miraculous. Everyone should google it and read it right now. It is short but it will change your life.
No, I am not Mary Oliver.
Gene Weingarten: Liz?
Please elaborate:"Many years ago, Gina Barreca and I were at a party."
HOW MANY years ago? Didn't the two of you meet in person in '04 on your "I'm With Stupid" book tour?
Was it all a sham?
Gene Weingarten: It was during the book tour.
Okay, maybe "three" doesn't qualify as "many."
washingtonpost.com: Wild Geese
Alexandria, Va.: How about next week you do the same type of poll but instead of using gender and age, use gender and race?
Gene Weingarten: Very simple: No one would show the same degree of prejudice on either of those polls. There is social stigma to doing so.
washingtonpost.com: Frozen fries? You reveal your inferior eating habits with every additional word you type.
Gene Weingarten: It's the crap you get at virtually any restaurant.
Poll-ygamy: Your poll doesn't really address the thoughts I usually have when I see a May-December couple: I assume that the older one is, on some level, operating as a parent, and the younger one has something of the role of a child. So a young woman with an older man has some sort of need for a daddy figure, and the young man with an older woman needs a mommy. The older halves are parenting their younger partners in some way.
And yes, I do think it's sad. Get some therapy, people.
Gene Weingarten: True. This was one dynamic that should have been on the poll.
Washington, D.C.: It's probably mean of me, but when I see May/December relationships, I wonder what about the older man/woman makes them incapable of having a relationship with someone their own age?
Gene Weingarten: But why are they obliged to seek someone of their own age? Why is that the default, to such an extent that a deviation causes such an avalanche of judgments?
Home Again, Home Again: Gene, my first year at college has just ended, and I have a question for you. I'm mildly in love with my best friend, who I met just this year at school. I am gay. He, technically speaking, is not. I told him of my feelings early on; he was incredibly mature and kind about it, and our friendship has only grown stronger. The two of us, and another friend, are getting an apartment together in Brooklyn next year.
The thing is, I'm not convinced that he's actually straight. I believe he thinks he is. But any reasonable stranger would assume, of the two of us, that he is the gay one. Not to rely on stereotypes, but...come on. Swishier than a whiskbroom. We also spend a lot of time hanging out on his bed, lying down and talking or watching TV. No funny stuff, but the atmosphere feels right. We often talk long into the early hours of the morning. He's even expressed a greater emotional connection to me than to his girlfriend at the time, and wondered if that was normal. His friends growing up were all girls. People we meet assume we are a couple. He describes attractive women as "pretty" or "gorgeous;" those are code words, Gene, and do not express attraction. I know them well.
I guess there is very little I can do. If he is gay, I suppose I'll just have to wait until he figures it out. If not (which is the assumption I have to operate under), then I'll need to move on. Cherish our friendship, blah, blah, blah. But it's hard to do that, since I don't feel like I know for sure. Part of me wants to kiss him and see how he reacts. Part of me knows that's a dumb idea. See if you can guess which part's which...
I'm not going to kiss him. But let me tell you, Gene-- there are few feelings worse than that of the gay man and his straight crush. Ask one. He could probably tell you stories.
Gene Weingarten: Sounds to me as though you've done all you can do. You've told him. I think pressing yourself on him would be a mistake.
Now, I am not gay, but I do believe that human relations are human relations, and in human relations I am as qualified as the next guy. Here's some advice. It's not easy, but I suspect it's right:
You can leave with or without an explanation. If you explain, make it honest: He is too much of a temptation for you; living with him but without him is too much of a frustration.
Then, watch what happens. Either way, you will know for sure.
Survey Results: Wow what a judgmental crowd. I am one of your scenarios. On purpose I will leave my gender a mystery, but my spouse is approximately 20 years older than me. We met when I was in my mid 20s and have been together for 13 years (married for 10). We have so much in common (not just same values and approach to our family) but also in vacation styles, movies, and what activities we enjoy doing in our spare time. Ironically our parents are about the same age (mine got married later in life while my spouse's were married just out of college). Would our situation work for everyone -- no. If I was not a mature person and if my spouse were not still open to all of the wonders of life than maybe it would be different. But I can say this, no one who ever meets us and then looks at us together ever thinks one of us was going through mid-life, looking for a trophy spouse, or aiming to be Mrs. Robinson.
All they see is two people very much in love.
Gene Weingarten: I'm likin' these letters.
Boston, Mass.: Hi Gene,
Your poll topic is making me ask you a question I was actually saving for Hax. I've been dating this guy for several months. When we had the former relationship talk he revealed that his last serious girl friend was when he was 25 and she was 19 (we are both 28 now). While that's not a big age difference in numbers I was kind of put off by the difference in "time of life" measure. She was in college - he was several years out. I really like this guy and we are moving toward serious but this past relationship of his is bothering me a bit. What are your thoughts? Should I just get over it?
Gene Weingarten: Yeah.
Checking for hypocrisy: So if Molly brought home a guy your age, your first instinct would be to think, "Great! She's in love!"???
Gene Weingarten: No. But I would not be a dispassionate observer. I would want to know a lot about this guy.
Lansing, Mich.: LIZ! Heinz is the best! HUNT'S is an abomination.
You probably like Skippy or Peter Pan peanute better better than Jif, too...
washingtonpost.com: Nope. The only ketchup that passes these lips is Westbrae Natural unsweetened ketchup. None of that pesky corn syrup.
Gene Weingarten: Ahem. My wife has MADE ketchup.
Anonymous: Am I being overly sensitive, or were you saying in your previous post that fibromyalga and CFS aren't real diseases? Because I have friends who have those diseases and it practically cripples them. One tries to deal with it but lacks health insurance, the other takes tons of pills to deal with the never-ending pain. Also both will probably have problems conceiving.
My brother also has wormy legs disease (Hi Liz!) It's diagnosed but he won't take medicine and self-medicates with pot. I question the wisdom of that. But thanks for spreading the RLS word, Liz.
Gene Weingarten: Re fibromyalgia and restless legs, don't read my book.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Come on Gene. So what if your change was in the shape of a cross. Rubbish. It's just society's insane insistence that it's OK to believe in God.
We're told as kids that the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus don't exist. But some invisible spirit comes into your bedroom to rearrange your change to form a religious icon. Were there coins making the figure of Jesus hanging on the cross, too?
Don't be a chump. Besides, what kind of Jew are you to have visions of Christian symbolism. What would your Bubby think?
Gene Weingarten: We seem a bit angry, don't we?
I didn't say I thought it MEANT anything. I was using it as an example of how presumptions of the supernatural play in our brains -- even the brain of a raging cynic such as me.
Speaking of May-December relationships:...based on the current poll numbers, you are getting by far the most responses from younger women.
Gene Weingarten: I know! There has been a tipping point, somewhere. Something like 40 percent of the audience here seems to be women under 35!
The Father's Right Hand, Heaven: With respect to your change forming a cross:
Me Almighty, can't you take a hint?
Gene Weingarten: I know, and You also sent the civil defense worker, the man in the rowboar, and the helicopter!
Rockville, Md.: Enjoyed your article on the fence/boy from Sierra Leone. The only part I didn't understand was the end where you seem to rise above the petty squabble and let others continue the fight. Didn't you start the brouhaha? It seems this is akin to starting a fire (albeit small one) and then having a revelation and saying "Eh, I'll let others put it out."
Gene Weingarten: Nah, I didn't start it. The Alley Avenger started it. The rib and I had moved our fence nearly 6 years ago. Other neighbors had moved theirs earlier. The proximate cause of the new dispute was the theft of the gate.
Hey, there is a new development. As I said, I have backed away from this entirely. But others haven't. Plat maps have been obtained. Yards have been measured. It would appear that those unmarked alleyways ... belong to the homeowners behind whose houses they run! We appear to own the land after all. We could build a chicken-slaughtering facility there if we want!
Actually, we probably couldn't do that because of zoning. No place of business. But we could have a chicken-slaughtering facility just for our own amusement.
May-December: If one wants to respond to the poll can we please NOT call it May-December?
50-55 is nowhere close to "December" people.
Gene Weingarten: Right. It's about September 23rd.
Arlington, Va.: Many ketchup bottles advertise themselves as "tomato ketchup." Is it possible to make ketchups of other vegetables?
I.e., is ketchup really a category term, like jam or jelly, and we've just come to associate it with one variety?
Gene Weingarten: Definitely. I have seen other ketchups. Squash, I think. It was green. Maybe zucchini ketchup. Same principle: Sweetened, vinegared goo.
Laurel, Md.: Before the Hiatus there were submissions of Worst American to counter the Greatest American poll. I'd like to nominate another candidate for Worst American: Breckinridge Long (1881-1958). What say you?
Gene Weingarten: Wow. I had to look him up, but wow. Liz, can you link to his bio?
washingtonpest.com: Breckinridge Long (1881 - 1958)
Secret misogynist or Romantic dolt?: I just took the quiz and my response show that I either harbor very secretive misogynistic tendencies - so deep, in fact, it was a surprise to me - or I am a sucker when it comes to women.
In question one, it seemed to me that some old sleazy man was duping of the innocent young girl. Fine.
But in question two, I felt that the young upstart rogue was using the kind older woman for security regardless of whether he has feelings for her.
So in both cases I cast the women as the innocent, so I have faith that women are kinder than men. It wouldn't even occur to a woman to deceive like this. They can't even fathom such a ruse....uh oh.
Right there is where I started to wonder if I had subconsciously judged these women as inept, and am, therefore, an ass.
In my mind I respect and value women, but does this gut reaction show me for the jerk I may truly be?
Gene Weingarten: I don't think you are a misogynist, exactly. I think you have Victorian notions of the helplessness of women.
Washington, D.C.: Wouldn't it be interesting to poll next week the chatters' own dating history? As in who's dated older/younger people at what age, etc.? Just to compare to what they answered to this week's poll.
washingtonpost.com: Alas, no poll next week because I'll be out of town on Monday.
Gene Weingarten: WHAT? This is the first I hear of this. This is how Chatwoman chooses to tell me.
Don't count on it. Negotiations are in the offing. Check the website on Monday.
Albuquerque, N.M.: I love this chat's fearlessness. Abortion, gun control, divorce, religious faith... I think this week we should tackle racial prejudice and euthanasia. Or maybe flatulence.
Let's revisit divorce, too. I have a hypothesis, based purely on anecdotal evidence: In the absence of abuse or other immediate danger, a man will always remain in an unhappy marriage until he has his next relationship lined up, whereas a woman in the same position will sometimes just leave. I can't explain why such a difference should exist, and of course I could be wrong. Would you be willing to throw this topic open for discussion?
Gene Weingarten: My favorite fact in this realm came from a study that Gina Barreca told me about: If a man is about to leave his wife, like, the next day, he will still get jealous if some guy hits on her at a party. Whereas if a woman is about to leave her husband, she spends months trying to set him up with someone else. With men, it's about possession. With women, it's about guilt management.
In today's Express: Deputies in Hudson, Fla., have shut down a marijuana grow house, seizing 94 pot plants and arresting the resident, 31-year-old Jason Robert Stoner, TWSP in Tampa reported.
Gene Weingarten: Indeed.
Not, IN: My female partner (I am male) frequently experiences excruciating, debilitating, paralyzing headaches after orgasms. It happens less frequently with a first orgasm than with a second or third.
The last one ended up prompting a CT scan which showed nothing wrong.
Since you know everything about weird disorders, please tell us what this is and how we can cure it.
We are both in our 20s and our relationship is best described by a French term of which you are not fond.
Oh, and for your poll: I'd assume both couples are just having a good time with neither abuse nor love. No such option was made available for couple 1. There is one for couple 2 depending on your interpretation of "boytoy." The woman gets a little more admiration since it is harder for an older woman to attract a younger man than vice versa.
Gene Weingarten: I actually know about this. It was in my book.
It's called a benign coital headache. Your f-word's cranial blood vessels are swelling during intimate moments, impinging on nerves.
She needs to see a doctor, first to rule out something more serious (very rare) but mostly because there are drugs that can help this. Beta blockers, I think.
Upstate New York: Accidentally sent this unfinished. This is what I actually want posted!
There are two comments from the chat that I'd very much like to respond to. Let me preface with: I have been working (volunteering) with children with special needs since I was 14. I spent well over 1000 hours doing that during high school. I am now 19 and studying to be a special ed teacher. That said...
To someone whose name didn't get listed, who said: "But the truth is, every time I hear about someone aborting a child with a birth defect I feel a knife in my gut thinking how there are so many people out there who would never have given my adorable three year old boy a chance. His condition has certainly made my life much more complicated -- more doctor appointments, more hospital stays, open heart surgery at three months, various therapies up the wazoo. ...college -- something more and more people with Down Syndrome are doing.
That's why I am so bothered when I hear people say that such fetuses should be aborted -- because of the "quality of life" issue. My son's quality of life is frankly better than that of most children in this world. And I wonder if people who think otherwise, or who go so far as to think that no child with Down Syndrome should be born, has ever spent any meaningful time with someone with a disability, particularly someone who has had the benefit of Early Intervention programs. I think it is easier to hold such an opinion when you don't actually have a face, a name, a personality to put on the disorder."
I have spent incredible amounts of time with children with DS. I have taught them, played with them, babysat for them. Changed their diapers. Disciplined them. I know that they are people, and often wonderful people. But they are mentally retarded, and often physically handicapped. I would not bring a child into the world knowing that s/he has a high rate of heart defects. That people will make fun of him/her. That his/her life expectancy is not all that long! I have spoken to adults with DS, and they almost invariably say it would be better had they not been born. Once a child is born, I think it deserves all the love and care and treatment that any other child would get. But if you have the option to save your child from heart surgery, why wouldn't you?
And to Full Circle: "Long story short, he has Asperger's Syndrome (a type of autism), has severe ADHD and bipolar disorder. Would I change anything? Not for the world."
First of all, I've also worked with kids with Asperger's (and autism) and those things, and it's just not comparable to, say, spina bifida. But secondly-if you honestly wouldn't change things to make your child have a better life (because if nothing else, he WILL get made fun of), then I have no respect for you as a parent. I'm sorry. I just don't. I have cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar, and I know my parents, for their sake and mine, would change that in an instant.
People ask me if I would abort a fetus with a disability or defect, and I unhesitatingly say yes. They ALWAYS respond, horrified, with "but you've worked with them!! You've seen so many of them!! How can you say that, knowing them?!" And I respond that I say that because I know them, and know how hard and miserable their lives often are. Maybe the small children have pretty normal lives, but talk to an adult with a disability and then tell me abortion is immoral.
(feel free to edit this for length!!)
Gene Weingarten: Thanks for writing so bluntly. I have come to believe, after reading the hundreds of posts on this topic, that people's beliefs on this subject are shaped not by logic or by a specific gut feeling. If you consider an early fetus a human being -- not a potential human being -- you are going to consider abortion a form of eugenics, and it will bother you enormously. And your view will be seen as both sanctimonious and retrograde by others. If you do not consider an early fetus a human being, you are going to apply a form of logic to your view (the logic you express in this letter) that the other side is going to find cold and conscienceless and inhumane.
That's sort of it. Not very profound, but I didn't see it right away.
Hottest Creatures...: Yeah, but Gene...
WHY are women over 40 the hottest creatures on the planet? I've noticed that as I get older, I tend to, um, gravitate more and more towards older women (even 10+ years older than me!).
Why is that? I still respect youthful beauty. It's just not as hot as it used to be. Can you help me understand?
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, because they know EXACTLY who they are.
Some young women do, too. But a far larger percentage of older women do. It's very hot.
Breckinridge, Long Island: I love the term "refugee enthusiasts" quoted in Breckinridge Long's bio.
Gene Weingarten: He was an amazingly horrifying guy. Actually, though, Lou Dobbs probably would refer to "refugee enthusiasts," too.
White Plains, N.Y.: The whole May-December thing icks me out because like other posters, I think about me and my dad. When I was 25 I took my recently-retired dad on a business trip to Morocco with me. As we walked through the souk (Arab market) the vendors would take one look at us and offer my dad Viagra. They didn't know much English, but they knew enough to try and capitalize on our age difference.
Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.
Washington, D.C.: Your position on science vis-a-vis God is fundamentally flawed. Science can/could not explain how/why the universe has lasted forever, since forever. Science, therefore, has attempted to replace God by theorizing (yes there is no proof) the universe's creation, the most prominent theory being the Big Bang. If we accept the Big Bang as truth, or some other theory that points to a "starting" point in Universal Time, how can science possibly explain the creation of the matter and conditions that must have existed in order for the universe to have a starting point? In short, science has very few answers, and religion raises too many questions. The burden of proof remains on the scientists and until they can disprove the existence of a higher power, or actually prove A theory of the beginning of the universe, you remain a strangely arrogant and confident little man, man.
Gene Weingarten: I'm not that little.
Arlington, Va.: Why do you think fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are fake? What about Lyme disease? Other auto-immune conditions?
Gene Weingarten: You have to talk to some internists about fibro and cfs. They tend to be catchalls for diseases of no apparent etiology and possible psychiatric origin.
Or not. It's not clear. But people who have one of these tend to cluster with the others. Another one is "irritable bowel syndrome."
The validity of these are still open to debate.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, that's it for today. Thanks for a fearless, honest discussion.
Hey, on Friday, one pm, Suzanne Tobin is going to be talking to the three finalists for this year's Reuben awards -- Dave Coverly of Speed Bump, Dan Piraro of Bizarro, and Bill Amend of Foxtrot. Something of a coup.
I'll be updating as usual.
Gene Weingarten: This just in from a twentysomething female friend of mine, regarding one guy's contention that young women are conversationally inept...
The nuh-uh thing is a test, silly boy. If you can stand it, you're old and deaf enough to buy us shiny things.
McLean, Va.: Gene, I love you. I don't know you, but I respect you and even sometimes defer to your opinions. However I have fibromyaglia (or as you called it, "fibromyalgia"). It is very real for me. It is also not something I could ever have made up in a million years. I am 27. I was diagnosed last year after almost a decade of unexplainable pain and fatigue. There are days I am in so much pain I cannot get out of bed, all because the previous day I dared to take a 30 minute walk.
I know a lot of ailments and diseases seem made up for the benefit of the pharmaceutical companies. But my condition is very real, medication doesn't help me, and there are plenty of times that I have cried because I know that with all likelihood, I will have this condition forever.
Gene Weingarten: Oboy. Okay, I realize I have angered and upset several people with my thoughts on this subject. I want to be clear.
Fibromyalgia (you are, in fact, spelling it wrong) is a relatively new disorder about which relatively little is known. There are doctors who specialize in its treatment. Many medical texts accept it as an illness, though often with a caveat: Some doctors think it is of psychological, not physiological origin. If it is physiological, no one knows what's causing it.
In my hypochondria book, I strongly implied that it is of psychosomatic origin, pointing out that there are other diseases of unknown etiology (read: we have no idea what is causing it) that people with Fibromyalgia ALSO tend to have. These include chronic fatigue syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome.
There is no question that people are suffering from SOMETHING; what is in question is whether they are suffering from something that begins in the head.
I also believe it true that doctors will sometimes tell hypochondriac patients that they are suffering from either fibromyalgia or CFS, simply because an actual diagnosis tends to make hypochondriacs feel better. I know this is true because more than one doctor told me this.
Is it possible that there is such an illness, and it is being junked up by these bogus diagnoses of people who do not really suffer from it? Yep.
Ma'am, I make no pronouncements about your case. I'm sorry you're feelin' bad, and I hope it goes away.
Framing the Question: I actually didn't have the slightest doubt that you were lying when you said you were lying. But I have inside knowledge: you once refused to print a brilliant joke of mine because you could not be sure the situation I described was real.
I've interacted/been written about by a number of Post reporters, and you are by far the most scrupulously ethical. Annoying and impatient, but highly ethical.
Of course, now that you've lied about lying, how can we trust you again?
Gene Weingarten: I hate posting this because it is so complimentary. I apologize. But I need to ask this person to contact me. I have no memory of your attempted joke.
Falls Church, Va.: Re: Agnes. I can't stand her. To me, she is like reading Danae from Non Sequitur every day.
Gene Weingarten: You're so wrong. This is a first-class comic strip. Edgy, judgmental, and funny. Agnes is not Danae; she is not smug, exactly -- she is bent.
Alexandria, Va.: Gene, my mind is worn out from running in circles around this issue, and I need help.
We can no longer keep our cat -- the reasons are myriad and complicated, but suffice it to say there's a baby and some in-laws involved, I've cried myself out, the decision is made.
I simply can't bear the idea of taking her to a shelter; she'd be so confused and frightened. And she'd never get adopted, because she's middle-aged and standoffish with strangers.
I'm beginning to think that the kindest thing would be euthanasia, even though there's nothing technically wrong with her. It would spare her the bewildering trauma of a shelter. What do you think?
And for anyone who might be tempted to cry "I'll take that cat!", spare me. I've spent weeks doing everything to find her another home, but it's spring and the world (and the rescue organizations) is overrun with kittens. No one wants a chubby lady of a certain age with a mature no-nonsense attitude, when they can have a sprightly young thing instead, all full of wonder and promise.
Gene Weingarten: Hm. Well, let's see.
Any takers? Email me at weingarten(at)washpost.com.
Gene Weingarten: At 9:47, we have a volunteer. Sounds like an excellent situation. Will the original poster please contact me at weingarten(at)washpost.com?
Gene Weingarten: Actually, several responses. You have a menu! Write in.
Poetryville: Mary Oliver is ketchup, and Billy Collins is wasabi.
Gene Weingarten: Billy Collins is my favorite living American poet, in part because he gave me this interview.
Kensington, Md.: While I agree with you that a two-year-old dog's name should not change, I have to tell you about my previous dog, Zeke. Unlike my current dog, or dogs past, Zeke had an amazing vocabulary. My husband and I, on a rainy vacation day, sat down and wrote out every word we KNEW he understood. We stopped at 50 because the weather cleared. He even knew certain words when spelled out. Proof: b-i-s-c-u-i-t would have him running to the kitchen, where as p-i-d-d-l-e sent him running for his leash. He even knew that "shrub pass" meant he was going outside. We ran out of walk euphamisms when he was 10 or so and gave up. Thankfully, he made it to 14.
Gene Weingarten: You think that's good? Check this out. It was sent to me by Heather Moline.
Datelab Participant, Va.: Hello Gene,
For most of Datelab's young life, I had been in a relationship with a young lady, and we read the feature together, laughing at those poor souls going through the dates and the tell-all interviews afterwards. We always found it hilarious that nearly all of the men would inevitably rate the evening a "4 out of 5" and never call the woman again. Another routine outcome is the man saying "it was one of the best dates of my life" but..."there's no chemistry." I could never fathom this outcome -- how can a date be so amazing, yet, so fruitless at the same time?
Or, there would be sudden, amazing meeting of two souls, as the column has produced at least two engagements. No couple matched by The Post ever seemed to just "date." It's all or nothing for Datelab.
This year, my relationship ended and I found myself reading Datelab in a new light. I decided to enter, and was surprised to be picked for a date. The Style editor Jennifer (That's "Jill" -- CW) Hudson Neal arranged the time and place, but wouldn't give me any hints about the victim... I mean, date. I was curious, seeing as how some Datelabs have been nearly science experiments in incompatibility -- "She's a 35-year-old thrice-divorced mother of three from Kinhump, Kentucky; he's a 24-year-old Hill staffer from Highbrow, Connecticut" -- I wondered what my date's fatal flaw would be?
So, when we met at the appointed time and place, I was surprised to find the date witty, bold, intelligent. Pretty in a very natural, easy way. I liked her. My initial wave of relief that she wasn't my Worst Nightmare Incarnate was quite powerful. She confided that she'd had similar fears about me before our meeting, and was relieved as well that I was socially presentable. We weren't 100 percent matches, but I'm not one who's interested in dating a female carbon copy of myself. I like some differences; makes life interesting. Our conversation flowed easily, and once the wonderful dinner was over, we continued the date at a nearby bar. At the end of the evening, we agreed to go out again soon.
The next day, I did my post-date interview with The Post writer, and exclaimed about what a good time I'd had. I rated it a fantastic date. The writer confided that my date had expressed similar thoughts. Datelab had scored a victory.
Over the next few days, I spoke to the writer a few times. Basic follow-up questions mostly, but there were a few things about me that had bothered my date. As the writer and I spoke about these issues, I suddenly was struck by some of the things my date had said that night that would have usually waved a big fat WARNING! GET OUT! RUN! HIDE! flag in my face. Sparing details for the article, I'll say that they are issues that are part of a much-larger national debate that should never be mentioned on a first date, but somehow became part of the conversation. I wondered why I had ignored my usually-flawless warning system.
After a couple of days, I finally figured it out -- Datelab really is an experiment, not a custom match-making system as some would believe. The goal of the column isn't to make every single Washingtonian happy on a soma-induced date, but to take a more accurate look the dating scene; to gain insight on the elusive beast of compatibility. Why do some folks seem to hit it off instantly? Why do others who look like perfect matches fail to spark?
Therefore, I ignored the huge, 800-pound gorilla flaws in our worldview and activities simply because I wanted to. I wanted us to be compatible, though our differing views on The Big Issues of the Day would be hard, if not impossible, to mesh. Still, that initial wave of relief, that thought of "hey, this person's not NEARLY as bad as you feared!" is a powerful narcotic. It affects us all on those semi-successful blind dates, either set up by friends, coworkers, the Internet, or even major international newspapers.
Maybe I just wanted The Post to have a happy story to report. Maybe I just wanted somebody to go out with again. Maybe I was just so grateful she wasn't Medusa.
In any event, I can now understand how a date can be wonderful... and lead nowhere.
I'm told my Datelab will run on May 27.
Gene Weingarten: This is interesting. Thank you. We'll be watching for it.
Buffalo, N.Y.: Gene, are you sure that you didn't arrange those coins into a cross in your sleep? Either that or someone in town came into your hotel room, that didn't just happen randomly.
Gene Weingarten: Believe me, I've thought about this. I have three possible explanations, in decreasing order of likelihood.
1. At some point before I went to bed, I absentmindedly arranged the coins that way, not even aware of what I was doing.
2. Just wild coincidence: They landed that way.
3. Um, someone snuck into the room to make a point.
I think the chances of 3 are minuscule. So it's basically 1, or 2, or I am going to get ONE HELL of a surprise when I die.
Re: poll: Gene, I love you, and chatters, I love you, but I don't get the near-universal scorn for May-September reflected in the poll. Sure, some age gaps are sleazy, and some couples are trading money for youth and vice versa. But assuming, based on no evidence, that people more than 20 years apart have shallow relationships is incredibly judgmental and... shallow.
There's no reason to think a young person is not as smart or interesting as an older person, and there's no reason to think an older person is supporting a younger person, and there's no reason to think they have an icky version of a parent/child relationship. Inequality of attractiveness and experience is inevitable. You love someone different from yourself. That's the point. You love someone REALLY different, well, cool. Your opposite can still be your equal.
I am door C and currently unattached, and I couldn't imagine ruling out a relationship based on race or economic status or the circumstances the guy grew up in. These are all beyond his control. So is the year he was born. Ideally someday I will love a 50-year-old man, right? They must be lovable. It's freaking difficult to find someone to love, cut people some slack.
Gene Weingarten: I'm with you on "smart." Let's not go overboard on the rest.
There IS a reason to think a young person is not as interesting as an older person. An older person is likely to have much more life experience.
There IS a reason to think an older person is supporting a younger person. The older person, statistically, is likely to have more money.
There IS a reason to think they have an icky version of a parent/child relationship. It could be; the coupling is unusual, and that's not an entirely improbable explanation.
However, it is also not unlikely that two smart, interesting people have found each other despite these differences, or even -- as you suggest -- because of them.
It's your last paragraph that's really great.
Arlington, Va.: In the poll, I judged the older person in each relationship negatively. I can't justify this. I can pretend and be polite/civil; I would get to know people and would be willing to change my opinion, but I judge everyone. I make similar judgments of couples who are of mismatched attractiveness, weight, intelligence, etc.. I'm very nosy too.
Gene Weingarten: Got a bunch of pallid defenses, most of which contended the question was unfair, since it almost encouraged judgment. I reject this. We were talking about initial impressions, which are so important in assessing relationships.
Of all the pallid defenses received, though, this is the one that made me laugh. Thank you.
Constantinople: At least the Turks appeared to have remembered this lesson.
Gene Weingarten: This is fabulous.
Washington, D.C.: What is the original of the phrase "Stop me before I _____ again?"
Gene Weingarten: I thought I knew the answer, but maybe not.
It's based on "Stop me before I kill again," but I'm confused by the provenance of that.
My memory is that it was something scrawled at the murder scene of a famous mass killer -- Howard Unruh, the WWII vet paranoiac who gunned down about a dozen people on a "murder walk" in his New Jersey neighborhood in 1949. But I see only one reference to it, and it's not credible. Unruh didn't HAVE murder scenes... he did it all in one rush, like Cho, and then was captured.
I wonder if it is from fiction? Anyone know for sure?
Gene Weingarten: Ah, here we go! Chicago, 1946. William Heirens, a serial killer, wrote with lipstick on the bathroom mirror of one of his victims: "For Heaven's Sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself."
Tempe, Ariz.: Gene, I wonder if you've noticed how the Audrey Santo story ties into last week's abortion discussion - her father's initial reaction in particular. You said last week that, if you were absolutely opposed to keeping the baby, you would leave your family, because you would never be able to stop resenting your wife. (This is not the reaction of the real you, but rather of the hypothetical you, and I get that.) Anyway, it's interesting how Audrey's father's reaction to her injury mirrors that. I'm not sure what the point is here, except that a "normal" amniocentesis does not guarantee you a lifetime of a "normal" child. But still, who would choose, voluntarily, to embark on a lifetime of seeing your child in a state like that? Is it really just the feeling that God controls everything and doesn't make mistakes?
Perhaps that's the distinction. I believe in biology, and I get that sometimes for whatever reason chromosomes come together in the wrong way and that's an accident, but if you believe that everything you get is a direct gift/challenge from God, then you can't believe that.
Gene Weingarten: Interesting. At first, I thought you wrong. Audrey was the victim of a terrible accident, not a preventable birth. It was no one's conscious decision. In that case, I think a father has a strong moral obligation to stick around. You can see Mr. Santo as a beast for leaving.
However, there are parallels. All medical advice was to place Audrey in some sort of custodial situation, where she likely would have been allowed to die in short order. It was Linda Santo who would have none of that. She insisted on keeping Audrey in their home, at enormous personal cost, requiring enormous vigilance indefinitely. I think I can understand a husband walking away from that, if he were inalterably opposed to that decision.
In THAT case, however, I don't think I would have left. I would have at least tried to stay, because of the enormity of the tragedy and its toll on my wife. In the case of the abortion that didn't happen, I would leave.
It Makes Me Crazy: I spend a lot of time on the phone (not a telemarketer) and I hear a lot of telephone answering machines, and 9 out of 10 contain the same rude phrase: "I'll get back to you at my earliest convenience." I don't think these people are being intentionally rude but what they're saying is "I'll get back to you when I have nothing better to do." The phrase they're probably searching for is "I'll get back to you at my earliest opportunity" meaning "as soon as I can."
Gene Weingarten: This is a good point! I'm sure I've heard that recording and not given it a second thought.
Grand, Pa.: In case people didn't get your "I'm My Own Grandpa" reference, the Muppets, as always, have you covered.
Gene Weingarten: I always thought this song was brilliant. I'm not enough of a geek to deconstruct it, but I've been told it sort of makes sense.
As Stanley Stupid, Tom Arnold actually did a great version of this in The Stupids. Can't find the video online.
Legalese: As a lawyer, I can tell you that our jargon is not a deliberate attempt to confuse. The fact that legal jargon confuses lay persons is a benefit (we make our own fun), but is not the driving force behind it. James D. Gordon wrote an article for the Yale Law Review called "How Not to Succeed in Law School," in which he translated the phrase "I give you this orange" into legalese as follows:
"Know all men by these presents that I hereby give, grant, bargain, sell, release, convey, transfer, and quitclaim all my right, title, interest, benefit, and use whatever in, of, and concerning this chattel, otherwise known as an orange, or citrus orantium, together with all the appurtenances thereto of skin, pulp, pip, rind, seeds, and juice, to have and to hold the said orange together with its skin, pulp, pip, rind, seeds, and juice for his own use and behoof, to himself and his heirs in fee simple forever, free from all liens, encumbrances, easements, limitations, restraints, or conditions whatsoever, any and all prior deeds, transfers or other documents whatsoever, now or anywhere made to the contrary notwithstanding, with full power to bite, cut, suck, or otherwise eat the said orange or to give away the same, with or without its skin, pulp, pip, rind, seeds, or juice."
The reason we do this is because somewhere, at some point, someone gave an orange to someone else by saying "I give you this orange," and then the orange-giver got a lawyer to say "Hey, he never specifically said he was giving you the peel" or "He never said you could turn around and give the orange to someone else." So, when you give away an orange, you have to be as specific as possible as a preemptory defense.
In other words, we're not arrogant. We're just a--holes.
Gene Weingarten: Well put! Thank you.
Charlottesville, Va.: Gene -- This is old news now, but I'm still thinking about it. Am I the only mom who doesn't think Alec Baldwin is horrible for the message he left on his daughter's cell? He may well be horrible for other reasons, but based on that information alone, I just think "oh, here's another parent driven to distraction and histrionics by a teenager". (I have two beloved children, a teenager & a pre-teen). I was happy to see Sunday that Hank Stuever agrees, but he's not a mom, so not sure if that exonerates me any.
I do however think that A.B. & K.B. could use some "how to parent a child during custody disputes so the child isn't caught in the middle" lessons, but so could probably a number of separated parents.
Gene Weingarten: I come down somewhere in between Stuever, who kinda gave Alec a pass, and the general chorus of how-could-he's, who see him as a child abuser.
I have no doubt that Alec's daughter was infuriating him deliberately. She is angry with him. She knows how to push hot buttons. She's doing it very effectively.
My kids hot-buttoned me on more than one occasion. My son was better at this than my daughter. I reacted with anger, and I suspect said things I wished I hadn't said.
The problem is not that Alec was yelling at her; it's that he was saying deeply hurtful things. You just don't do that to a child. It's okay to sound as though you are angry with your child. It is never okay to sound as though you hate the child.
I can't believe I am answering a celeb question.
washingtonpost.com: Neither can I.
Over a month late in D.C...: Great article about Josh Bell. I just read the chat transcript and am wondering what if your worst-case scenario came true? How do you salvage your article?
"We feared only one thing. It was the one thing that WOULD have killed the story. It wasn't that a crowd would gather, but that a crowd would gather not because they found the music beautiful, but because they recognized Bell. That word would go out almost from the beginning, and that what we'd be seeing would not be a test of beauty, but a test of celebrity."
Gene Weingarten: I would have written the story in a much more abbreviated fashion for the following day's paper -- probably the Style section. It would have been about how the experiment fizzled; and I would have tried to present it as evidence that classic music is not as dead as people think it is.
Organ donor dilemma: I support organ donation, and had, until recently, organ donor status. However, my husband is against it, and asked me to revoke the status when I renewed my driver's license. I did as he wished, because I figure, if I die, he'll have enough grief to deal with, but I don't feel great about my non-donor status. What do you think is the right thing to do in this situation? Thanks!
Gene Weingarten: Interesting ethical dilemma.
Well, I believe that you have the right to decide if you are going to be an organ donor, because it impinges not on what happens to you after death (NOTHING happens to you after death) but on how you feel about yourself during life.
I think your husband's feelings are immaterial, and I'm kinda ooked that he asked you to revoke the donor status. Apart from the fact that I cannot understand why anyone would deny their body parts to a needing recipient, I cannot understand why he would think it appropriate that HE denies your body parts to a needing recipient.
The fact that he'd have to do it is irrelevant; one has certain obligations to one's spouse. Think of it this way -- let's suppose you wanted to be buried next to your ma. Is it his moral right, after your death, to decide, no, you're gonna be cremated and flushed down the toilet?
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