Chatological Humor (UPDATED 9.21.07)
Tuesday, September 18, 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.
P.S. If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality. I haven't the time to edit them out. -- Liz
Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.
Is this chat too mean-spirited and cynical and faultfinding? Many of you seem to think so. I was pondering this very question while walking home on Sunday, when, suddenly, something attracted my attention. My neighbor Ely was trudging down the block, alone, and he looked really troubled. He was moving purposefully but staggering a little under the weight of a large backpack. This was unusual for many reasons, the most dramatic of which is that Ely is five years old.
I was going to go to his assistance, but then I saw his mom, Phoebe, standing in her front yard, watching, bootlegging a smile.
"He's running away from home," Phoebe informed me. "I wouldn't let him play on the computer."
By this time, Ely had reached the end of the block. He was just standing there. We watched for a bit. He didn't move.
"He's got a dilemma," Phoebe said. "He knows he's not allowed to cross the street by himself."
Phoebe said Ely had packed fairly prudently: He had stuffed into the backpack four days' clothing and his toothbrush. But watching him there, at the end of the street, paralyzed by indecision, at a familiar human crossroads -- the lust for independence and adventure at war with the subtler attractions of safety and conformity to societal norms -- one could not help but notice that Ely's planning was less than entirely perfect, standing there as he was in his GI Joe underpants. He had forgotten to put on trousers.
We like this new poll software, Liz and I. One of these days, there will be no chat at all, just polls. But for the moment, consider this:
"I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me."
Poll: Is this funny?
Did you take it?
Good, because I am going to give you the answer now.
Yes, it is very funny. You could write a 20-page essay about why; it would involve an explanation of the value of conciseness, and a deconstruction of the nature of humor as the manipulation of surprise through inversion, seasoned with hostility. It's funny. If you said it wasn't, you are stupid.
Okay, I think this chat is back on track now.
We're going to discuss the main poll (
Doug Wann proposes this Googlenope, which I really like: "Gallaudet School of Auctioneering," and, from the googlenope.com Web site: "world renowned frog gigger," and "teeming with hermits."
Important talking point: Regarding Friday's Zits-- was this amazing, or what, on a comics page?
Glen Burnie, Md.: I once saw a photograph of the important parts of post-op transsexual. Any gent who was about to get intimate with a "changed woman" would notice the difference immediately. So your first poll question to me is a moot point.
washingtonpost.com: Oooh, an expert!
Gene Weingarten: I was hoping someone would post this, so I could reveal the derivation of the poll this week: I was shown some photos, online, of re-made female genitalia. Some looked "wrong," but I saw two that seemed anatomically convincing, well within the range of normal, in a an area of human morphology where "normal" exists on a pretty wide continuum. Yes, I believe I might not have known the difference, in an intimate situation.
It surprised me; hence, the poll.
For what it is worth, the examples I saw online of female-to-male would not have fooled anyone.
I would like to this stuff, but, you know: Career, paycheck, etc.
Springfield, Va.: My boyfriend (of six years) and I feel similarly to you about marriage: There's no need to marry unless there are children involved, and I will definitely keep my name should we decide to marry.
The other day we had a hypothetical discussion about how to name our children, should we ever have any. We don't want to hyphenate their last name, but also do not want to ignore either parent. I, jokingly, said we should give the boys his last name and the girls my last name, and he actually thought it was a good idea. "It's a great way to preserve maternal lineage," said he. What do you think? Is this a ridiculous idea, or could it work?
Gene Weingarten: I think it's a good idea.
Gene Weingarten: Speaking of marriage, name changes and awwws, this just in from Steve Matuszek:
Until you published it last week with her post to this chat, "Quinn Cassidy Matuszek" was a Googlenope.
Thanks for reassuring her about our courthouse wedding. It went splendidly. Steve.
North McLean: Excellent poll overall, as the balanced responses seem to confirm.
I do take exception, though, with the first question. Context matters. If this is a casual one-night stand, or any other scenario in which no true commitment is required, then by all means keep your mouth shut.
But if this is intended to be the beginning of something more, then I feel you need to be truthful to avoid inducing a sense of betrayal at a later date.
In this way your past gender is no different than any other detail of your past such as former marriages, children, felony convictions, and the occasional institutional confinement.
Gene Weingarten: This is a reasonable position, but I disagree. I think if full disclosure is morally necessary, it is morally necessary under any circumstances. Whether it is morally necessary, in my opinion, depends on whether you believe that a reasonable man might feel terribly misused by having had sex, unknowingly, with a transsexual.
Springield, Va.: You used to be a man ... Should you tell him before you sleep with him?
I used to have male genitalia (but never a male on the inside) so I have done field research on this question. In general, if what you are pursuing is a one night stand, there is no need to bring the subject up: the relationship is only physical and as long as the guy gets his, who really cares?
If you are talking about something that is developing into a long term relationship, then yes he should be told. Relationships are built on trust.
Back in my pre-op days, I once got all the way to a Lieutenant Colonel's apartment before I remembered to tell him I was pre-op (alcohol was obviously involved). When I told him I had to tell him something, he asked what?
I said "I'm pre-op."
He sighed and said (beat)
"I thought you were going to say you had herpes."
Much merriment ensued.
Gene Weingarten: Wow. This guy was not fazed that you still had male equipment?
I have received about a dozen posts like yours, suggesting that there is no obligation for disclosure for a one-night stand. I hold fast to my position that if it's wrong at any time, it's wrong all the time. More later.
Please tell me there's a verb missing from this sentence:"I would like to this stuff, but, you know: Career, paycheck, etc."
Gene Weingarten: Ah, yes. "Link to." Heheh.
Austin, Tex.: Speaking of Jewish name changes...
My Mom's great-uncle, born Irving Landes, immigrated to America in the early 1900s. Once there, he looked around at all the Americans living like him in the Lower East side of New York, and realized that his name did not sound like the names of all these other Americans he knew. He went to court and legally changed his name to Isadore ("Izzy") Boimovitch.
(This story may sound like a FOAF, but I assure you it is completely true. My mom knew the subject personally; my grandmother -- much younger -- knew him before and after the name change.)
Gene Weingarten: I love this!
Waldorf, Md.: Hey Gene, I'm a freshman in college and I just started writing for our school paper. Last week, my first article made it to print, but it wasn't under my name. It was published both on the school Web site and in the paper and each time another person's name was on it. Also, because we get paid, I think the other may have gotten my pay for the article, too. I e-mailed my editor and she hasn't responded. I'm hoping you can give me some good advice on how to handle the situation.
Gene Weingarten: Obviously, this problem is completely insoluble. My advice is to get a tattoo.
Pontific, ation: Is there something screwy about my value system that I invariably always find tax fraud to be the most despicable of any of the "sins" you ask us to judge in your polls? I wouldn't presume to judge people in many instances with regards to how they deal with their relationships,and personal problems; I will judge someone for purposefully cheating everyone who depends on public money (for example, veterans in VA hospitals, elderly people on medicaid) of what they're entitled to.
Gene Weingarten: I think few people would agree with you, if only because people's perception is that you tax money, by and large, doesn't go to veterans or the elderly. I think the common perception is that it goes to buying the third tread on the left side of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Or to pay a portion of the salary of the deputy undersecretary of paper-product acquisitions in the department of departmental affairs.
I also regard tax fraud as serious, but not for the reason you do. I think it's sniveling -- a crime people think they can get away with, so they do. It's a crime for cowards and chiselers.
Hum, PA: Eugene, is the "He had a hat!" joke funny? I've told it to a few people and they never laugh. I think it's great. And I know how to tell a joke. I'm your comedian "friend".
Gene Weingarten: Hey. I don't know the joke, I think. You can't tell it here, I presume?
Arlington, Va.: Derek Jeter: god or just demi-god?
Gene Weingarten: A great human. Almost too good to be true. I fear some grotesque secret.
I-270, Exit 1: "By losing his temper, Zidane lost the World Cup for his team and his country."-- Gene Weingarten.
You are 100 percent correct on this. Few people remember that Zidane also received a straight red card for intentionally stepping on a Saudi player during the 1998 World Cup. He is an immensely talented player and a hothead.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, he's just a big ol' baby. As opposed to, say, Derek Jeter.
Prank Wars: Gene,
I don't understand why I am rooting against Skeeter. The pranks against him are worse (or better). I love Amir.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, but Amir really showed himself to be a pill in his reaction to the Human Giants prank.
I am still not sure whether these are real. Fifty-fifty, in my mind. Amir wrote a book about how to fool people into thinking you are better than you are.
Not Jewish Enough: Seems to this gentile that the phrase "too Jewish" implies that Jewishness is a negative (not unlike "is Obama black enough?" implying that blackness is inherently a positive without considering the person). So changing your name from Larry Zeiger to Larry King is contributing to anti-semitism. Besides, if your name is Stanley Isadore Goldenfarb, you probably don't look like Prince William, you know?
True story: I fall into that interestingly American ethnicity that gives me a surname that could easily be Jewish. My wife, a Mormon Utah native, receives calls and letters from the Hadassah society looking for Ruth -Goldenfarb].
Gene Weingarten: Nah, I see it as "too ethnic." Parallel to "Helga von Dusseldorf" or "Annamarie Antonacci-Bertucci."
Seattle, Wash.: Yankee fans: obnoxiously smug, or smugly obnoxious?
Gene Weingarten: Loyal and very highly confident.
New York, N.Y.:"I also regard tax fraud as serious, but not for the reason you do. I think it's sniveling -- a crime people think they can get away with, so they do. It's a crime for cowards and chiselers."
So, in other words, if you're going to steal, steal big?
Gene Weingarten: Precisely. It's like hiring a killer to off your spouse. Just ... cheesy.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: here's a gender-related question for you....
Years ago I dated a woman who really got a kick out of popping blackheads on my back, chest and face. Not a sexual kick, mind you, but she just liked doing it. I thought it was a little odd, but it was good for my skin and didn't hurt too much so what did I care? A year or two after she and I broke up, I dated another woman who did the same thing.
That was about 10 years ago. I mentioned this in passing to a co-worker of mine, who is about eight years younger than I am. I said, "yeah, it was really weird and I have no idea why they'd want to do that. Would you ever do that?" She replied, "Would I?!?! I do it all the time... it's great!"
Now, what the hell is going on? Is this a common woman thing to do? Did lightning just strike three times for me?
I assume you, Gene, cannot answer this. But maybe the commentariat can...
Gene Weingarten: Uh. Wow.
Maybe it is that women like to fix things?
Rockville, Md:"Arlington, Va.: Derek Jeter: god or just demi-god?
Gene Weingarten: A great human. Almost too good to be true. I fear some grotesque secret. "
Gene Weingarten: Could be!
Fashi, ON: Gene, I trust you (and Liz of course) above all other sources.
When is it Skirts With Boots season?
I polished my boots last night and realized I missed the chat and would have to wait to ask.
I heart you and your excellent fashion sense.
washingtonpost.com: When temps drop to 60 degrees or under at noon.
Gene Weingarten: When you can no longer wear white shoes or beige bras.
Finding the Differences: I just have to say that I think this feature is so stupid and when I get to that page, I find I have to solve it before continuing with the magazine. What's happening to me? Why can't I just skip it? It pulls me in somehow...
Gene Weingarten: Tom the Butcher is counting on that.
Some of them are real: The early ones have to be real. Amir's reaction to seeing his audition tape on screen was too well done to be faked. I'm pretty sure the comedy club is real, but I don't know about the latest two.
Gene Weingarten: I just don't know. I found The Slap suspicious. Do women really slap men anymore?
Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll.
I expected far greater differentials between men and women through most of the answers, and I'm not sure what happened. Maybe you can tell me.
Nowhere is this more startling, to me, than in the first question, where I expected a huge majority of men to say that it is an ethical/moral obligation to disclose the fact that you are a transsexual.
Here is my thinking: A transsexual looks like a woman, feels like a woman, and has every right to call herself a woman. But she is not EXACTLY a woman, physically. Every cell in her body is, literally, down to the chromosomes, male. Part of the sexual response in a transsexual comes from massage of her intact prostate gland. I am not sure how I would feel about this, personally, if the issue came up, but I imagine that a reasonable, not jerky male might feel it a major betrayal not to be told in advance. And because of that, I think my answer would have been that it is a moral obligation to tell.
Yeah, this suggests that a transsexual can never leave the past entirely behind. I think that's awful. But I don't see an alternative that is entirely moral.
I may be wrong on this one, and oddly illiberal. Tell me.
The question about the resume was literally me. That's what my resume looked like; for my first job it didn't matter. They knew my history because I was hired based on a story I did after dropping out of school. But my next job, the resume followed me and no questions were asked. I never felt I did anything wrong. They were hiring me based on four years' experience in the field. I just see no problems here, and am surprised at how close this call was for most of you.
Gene Weingarten: One of the most remarkable results were the numbers of you who believe that the uber-Jewish name people had no ethical right to change their names! I am actually with those who found something distasteful in the uber-Jew to uber-WASP conversion. I'd go halfway.
Gene Weingarten: More in a few minutes.
Bristow, Va.: The Post story last week about the Virginia court decision on tree nuisances had the first example I've seen of a woman with a double-hyphenated last name. Sure, the names were short (Cook-Walker-Fancher), but this still seemed rather odd. Any chance that this could become a trend?
Gene Weingarten: You'd think that the preponderance of hyphenated names would eventually make this an ordinary second-generation occurrence, no? Maybe even four names.
What's wrong with 'Hadassah'?: I think it's a lovely name, and I'm as WASP-y as they come.
Gene Weingarten: Ooh, that reminds me of a joke I can't tell because it is rude: "What is the plural of yenta?" "Hadassah."
'Wormy Legs' Diagnosis: I just got a diagnosis for RLS. A relief to know what it is, I guess, and I got help because of Chatwoman. But now I'm not only exhausted during the day, but confused about my options. Chatwoman, give me a good word!
washingtonpost.com: Get to a specialist. I recommend trying to get a consult at my doc's: Helene Emsellem (sleepdoc.com). She -- or any other neurologist worth her salt -- will help you find the right treatment for you. For me it's opiates. For you it might be a dopamine agonist.
I love you, Gene!
Gene Weingarten: Haha. That last line is how C'woman made sure I posted this.
Arlington, Va.: Um, when do people stop wearing beige bras?
In fall, clothing gets darker, so others shouldn't be able to tell -what- color one's bra is.
Gene Weingarten: Hey, I ALSO don't know when you stop wearing white shoes. I was just yammering.
Baltimore, Md.: This is random, but I was discussing this with my father. We were talking about the Beatles and if we had ever come across a person who does not like at least one Beatles song. Neither of us could think of a single person. Is there anyone who doesn't like the Beatles? Is there another singer/group that appeals to so many people of all ages? We couldn't think of one. I am 23 and my dad is 48 for what it's worth.
Gene Weingarten: And their canon is so huge. I always felt that an all-Beatles radio station would do very well. No one would have it as their Number One car button. But it would be everybody's Number Three.
State of Confusi, ON: Hi Gene,
On Tuesdays my husband and I usually go with friends to a pub for trivia night. The proceeds go to charity. Last Tuesday (9/11), instead of the standard (poor children in Africa) charity, proceeds went to a group that helps severely wounded soldiers readjust to normal life. Sitting at the table just behind us were the group representative and a couple of veterans, including one with no legs. Lots of people came up to the soldiers to say thank you. I wanted to talk to them too, but I couldn't figure out what to say. Thank them for signing up to protect us? Apologize for not taking better care of them than sending them off to this stupid, useless war? My feelings were a confused mix of sadness, anger and guilt (I would certainly never sign up for the military). I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, or inadvertently starting a political argument, so I didn't say anything at all. I've been thinking about it since, and wishing I had spoken with them -- I don't see soldiers that often, as I'm part of the privileged majority who have no real connection to the war -- but I still don't know what I should have said.
For what it's worth, I'm 25 and didn't vote for Bush either time, but do feel that as Americans we are all at least a little bit responsible for this fiasco.
So how 'bout it, Gene? What should I have done?
Gene Weingarten: You should have done exactly what you did: Nothing. You had nothing to say, and would have stammered out something platitudinous or dishonest, and injured vets get too much of that as it is.
I never know what to say, either. I actually wrote about that, briefly, in my piece on Garry Trudeau. I've come to believe that the best thing to say, if you have nothing coherent to say, is "Hey, how you doin?" They're people. They understand.
Bedford, Mass.: On the used to be a man question...folks seem to be making a distinction between casual sex and committed sex. I would argue for disclosure simply because it IS sex. No casual friend needs to know details you'd rather not reveal, but people have a right to know who they're sleeping with. Of course, you could argue that you should know someone well enough before sleeping with them to feel comfortable revealing sensitive information, but that brings in a whole other dimension. I just think there's some responsibility to come clean before having sex with someone to whom it might matter.
Gene Weingarten: I just don't think it is casual information, like whether you have been married before. I think it is very significant information, germane to what is about to happen.
Zits: I pop my husband's back pimples all the time. He loves it and I don't mind. It's a part of our grooming ritual and why we aren't that far from monkeys.
Gene Weingarten: A grooming ritual!
Where are all these pimples coming from? I don't have all these pimples.
Blackheads?: I've always thought of blackhead picking as more of an obsessive-compulsive spectrum thing rather than a gender thing. I'm a mid-20's woman (hot) who pulls at her hair and picks at her blackheads because 1. they're there, and 2. it's soothing and satisfying in times of stress. If I don't have blackheads, sometimes I'll pick at my husband's, because he doesn't mind. But my dad pulls hair/picks blackheads as well. Maybe this type of obsessive-compulsiveness is just more prevalent in women? Maybe gender based? I'm not sure.
Gene Weingarten: WHERE ARE ALL THESE PIMPLES COMING FROM?
Hey, this reminds me of the joke about the pimple-sucker, which I cannot tell here because of Liz.
Ashburn, Va.: Gene, I thought you might appreciate this.
Gene Weingarten: This is real? Are those numbers dowrys, or asking prices? How humiliated would you be if your parents did this to you?
Not real, right?
Gene Weingarten: The poll: On the issue of the IRS, listen: If you didn't turn in your spouse before, then turning him in after is nothing but revenge and retribution, and those are bad words.
I also believe that within a marriage, privacy is essential, and that in all cases not involving physical abuse, the requirement to maintain privacy exists even when the marriage no longer does.
Bathroom Numbness: So Gene,
When I'm sitting on the toilet, I usually read or do the Sudoko. It's one of the few places I can hide out, so I take advantage of the "free" time. My elbows often rest on my knees, and when I get up my foot has invariably fallen asleep. This seems to be happening with increasing frequency and severity. The feeling always comes back after a few minutes, and I've started shifting on the can to avoid it. Anything I need to worry about?
Gene Weingarten: No. You are compressing a nerve in your thigh. If memory serves me correctly, it is the sciatic nerve, the longest one in the body.
Anthropodermic Bibliopegy: I can scarcely believe we have need for the term!!
Gene Weingarten: Wow!
re: popping blackheads/zits: Yeah, I think this is pretty much a girl thing. Me and my friends have had conversations about this (the enjoyment of popping blackheads or, in certain situations, whiteheads). There's something very satisfying about it when you get the little plug to come out cleanly.
Gene Weingarten: Good god. Ladies. I will report that in a secret message queue from Lizzie, she tells me: "I am appalled at all these zit poppers. I've never heard of such a thing."
Chicago, Hoping My Sense of Humor Isn't Too Poor: My son came back from a professional soccer game on Saturday night with a promotional gift -- a deflated soccer ball.
The ball was molded into a half a globe.
Oh, they gave out Soccer Yarmulkes for the holiday!
As a goyim, should I spend time confession in a few days or figure that God doesn't care?
Gene Weingarten: Q: Why do Jews wear yarmulkes?
A: Because those little propellers cost extra.
This is, in my opinion, the perfect example of a tellable ethnic joke, for the simple reason that the stereotype is ludicrous. It doesn't hurt because it's not true: Just like the "your mom is a whore" taunt.
Popping Significant Other's Pimples: It holds the same appeal as popping bubble wrap. Yes, I've done this to my ex-husband. No, this isn't why we got divorced.
Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.
Baron Stanley of Alderley: So, do you think of "Stanley" as a particularly Jewish name? Why?
Gene Weingarten: Because Pat the Perfect's father is named Stanley.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Gene -- Any thoughts on last Saturday's Style Invitational results (addressing its move from Sunday to Saturday)? The absence of humorous submissions from a group of semi-professionals seems to suggest (to me at least) that either they are too close to this issue to be able to find anything funny about it or, it's such a bad idea (like "New Coke" or the Edsel) that there's simply nothing funny to say about it. Also, do you have any idea what the Empress thinks?
washingtonpost.com: Style Invitational, ( Post, Sept. 15)
Gene Weingarten: I suspect the contest did what it was intended to do, which was to publicize the move. Not sure what the Empress thinks. Is she out there?
Oooh, synergy!: I don't like the Beatles, probably for the same reason I don't like Derek Jeter.
I acknowledge that both are very skilled at their craft, performing at a level the puts them in the top fraction of a fraction of a percent of those who write and perform music or play baseball, respectively.
Yet, despite their obvious merit, society has somehow managed to give them a level of praise and adulation that outstrips even that to which they are entitled. I am SICK of hearing about how great the Beatles were from every Boomer who ever walked the earth. I KNOW they changed your life. Congratulations, that's fantastic. Similarly, I would love to watch a Yankees game without the announcers slobbering about Jeter's prowess if he's having a good game, or his "intangibles" if he's having a bad one.
I know they're both good; I get it. I'm just sick of being reminded of it.
Gene Weingarten: Nuff said. "I know they're good."
VA: I looked at the FAQ for the marrymydaughter. It looks real and it's what the prospective husband would pay to the family for the girl's hand. YIKES
Gene Weingarten: I can't believe this is real. Someone needs to fact check.
Madison, Wis.: Gene, if you read the chats hosted by any of the WP reporters, there's always a comment from a reader who feels that the reporter is betraying some sort of bias in favor of Dems or Repubs, and it's usually because of something innocuous or ambiguous stated by the reporter in response to another reader's question. How come you get away with your occasionally overtly opinionated, sometimes sarcastic, frequently intemperate statements? Hey, I think you're great, but why can't Romano or Fletcher catch a break?
Gene Weingarten: Because I am not a reporter. I am a columnist. I am allowed to be intemperate and unfair.
Washington, D.C.: Gene, this is completely off-topic, but I thought you would know the answer. Is Montmarte a good date location? I am ashamed to say I haven't been despite living around the corner, but I know you've praised it before.
Gene Weingarten: Sure. Though I have to admit I don't really know what a good date location is. It's an excellent restaurant and the tables aren't jammed up against each other, which is my personal bete noir in restaurants.
Washington, D.C.: Marry Our Daughter has, in fact, been outed as a hoax site. A number of the feminist blogs covered it, including e-mails and comments from men who didn't realize it was a hoax and were trying to become acquainted with their favorite girls.
Pandagon had a good post on it.
Gene Weingarten: Ah, good, thank you.
Confessi, ON: Yesterday I was in the Atlanta Airport. I went into the men's room, where one urinal spilled a couple of drops of water each time it flushed. All the other urinals were in use, so I had to use that one. Naturally, I adopted a "wide stance" when I used it. Does this make me gay?
Gene Weingarten: Yes.
Grossing me O, UT: Can we end the pimple-popping discussion? I imagine a lot of us (including me) eat lunch during this chat --
Gene Weingarten: Surely, people learned long ago not to each lunch during this chat?
Gene Weingarten: Actually, that raises an interesting question: Do most people have their appetites ruined by disgusting topics? Doesn't affect me at all, or anyone in my family.
Blackheads: Wait, what?! Are these things freckles? What is a "blackhead," anyway?
Gene Weingarten: A blackhead is a pimple with dirt at the top. It's black.
Alexandria, Va.: on the name question, it bothered me because of the whole "heritage" "who you are" BS. YOU are who you are. Your religion, past, name, etc are irrelevant, or should be; and further, what about Janice Rosenberg, the nice Chinese girl who took a married name? Or Massouf Jahib, the Ethiopian Jew? You cannot make assumptions, and you shouldn't. I find the whole "member of the tribe" thing incredibly offensive -- it is self-segregation, perpetuates stereotypes, and contains the whole "we are the chosen people" implication, which is the source of a great deal of strife and even war. For the record, I have a very "Jewish" name and am in fact a Christened Episcopalian who has been an atheist for years. I have had people be overtly friendly to me, make invitations, offers, etc in the past, based on their stated assumption that I was Jewish, and when I noted otherwise, a distinct coolness arose. I find it very sad.
Gene Weingarten: Just speaking for myself: I would change my name if it was Moishe Hyman Mendelbaum. It delivers too much of an ethnic message. I would also change it if it were Siobhan O'Kelly O'Rourke.
Intemperate and Unfair...:... and vituperative. Let's not forget vituperative.
Gene Weingarten: I'll get you for this.
Sports Question: Gene,
Did you hear about O.J.?
Gene Weingarten: That is some guy, that OJ.
Portland, Ore.: Okay, Gene, you've recently been on this kick about how "nothing untrue should be able to hurt a person."
However, you've previously stated that you know something you could say to your wife about her that would hurt her feelings.
Taking these two propositions together, isn't it just as bad for you to say you "know something that would hurt her feelings" as it would be for you to actually say it? Obviously the thing that you know must be true in your mind, or it would have no power to hurt her!
Gene Weingarten: What's to explain? I am saying that I know something about my wife that is true and negative, something that would hurt her if I uttered it. Don't you think any married person could say the same thing?
She's ALMOST perfect.
Veteran: I'd like to respond to confused, the young woman who didn't know what to say to the wounded veteran. You are not alone. I recently retired from 22 years in the military. I was never deployed to either of our current wars. As a military retiree, I receive my routine medical care at Walter Reed. I hate going there. Seeing the young wounded troups makes me so sad and angry. I would like to talk to them, but like you I don't know what to say. Frankly, I don't really trust myself to speak to them. I'm afraid I'll start to cry.
Gene Weingarten: I think there is a political element added to it, with this war. Trudeau addressed it in a speech he gave to a veterans group: He never talks to them about their mission. There is too much pain in the truth behind it. It's a misbegotten mission.
The Empress of The Style Invitational: Yeah, it's true that the main purpose of the contest was to announce the move from Sundays to Saturdays. I wasn't wildly optimistic about the contest results, but I've been proved wrong before and I thought it was worth a shot. Also, I was waiting for a chance to have some space on the page to show off the two new prize magnets for Honorable Mentions.
Choosing the right contest is the hardest part of Empressing. I need something that will bring in 30 or more varied, clever entries that are worthy of winning a prize, and that aren't all pretty much variations of the same joke. And the pool of possible answers has to be broad enough that the best answers won't each be sent by 29 people. When he was at The Post, columnist Bob Levey had a monthly neologism contest in which he'd give some situation and ask readers to come up with a word for it. And he'd credit the first person who sent in a particular word he liked, then add, "Followed by 43 others." The Invitational doesn't do that; it's not a race. If three or four people send the same thing, I toss it.
Wordplay contests are the most predictably successful and often draw the most entries, but I don't know if the results are as much fun to READ as jokes, humorous bservations, etc. I try to have a mix between the two types of contest, with the realization that the latter type is riskier. (Weeks 730 and 731, which I haven't gotten to yet, both have me crossing my fingers; one is about ways to waste time, the other about ridiculous ways to prepare food.)
That said, I have only an infinite number of contests to come up with every seven days, and so I do eagerly welcome contest ideas, even if I might not find them workable. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org with something in the subject line to indicate that it's a contest idea. Including some terrific examples is a very persuasive method.
As for the move to Saturdays itself, I'm not upset about it. The editor of the Style section, Deb Heard, is a big fan and supporter of the Invitational. When it was decided that the Sunday section would be mostly arts-focused, it didn't make sense to keep the Invite taking up half a page on Page 2, and moving it farther back would position its off-color humor dangerously close to KidsPost. I figured that having it on Page 2 every Saturday would be better than being buried in the middle of Style&Arts on Sunday. (Another option discussed briefly was to put it in the Sunday Source section, which I didn't think was a great idea. For one thing, we'd have had to change the name!)
One great thing about Saturdays is that now, the Invitational bumps right up next to Richard's Poor Almanack, the brilliant and hilarious weekly cartoon by Richard Thompson. And right next to him, "Doonesbury." Talk about your hat tricks.
By the way, here's something nobody knows about: If you live out of the area and you'd like to see the actual pages of the Washington Post every day, you can actually get it delivered as an e-mail link each day -- it's basically a collection of PDF pages -- for only $10 a month. Not as good as the cellulose version, but a good substitute. It's searchable, too. Thewashingtonpost.newspaperdirect.com
Gene Weingarten: Thanks, ma'am.
Rest in, Va.: Gene/Liz..I'm eating penne pasta salad with black olives right now. PLEASE stop with the zit popping submissions. I feel like am I chewing on blackheads as I read the chat today.
I wonder if these same zit-poppers would pop cists, too. That's like a gold mine compared to a piddly blackhead.
washingtonpost.com: I have a cist on my foot. I didn't know it was pop-able. A project!
Gene Weingarten: Cyst. This has me laughing.
More Sports !: Gene-
Do you like Fantasy Sports? Do you play 'em?
I've been playing for a few years, realizing that is completing poisoning my enjoyment of sports (well baseball, it has made me like football more)... and contemplating leaving it behind.
Gene Weingarten: I could never play fantasy sports because I am too much in the tank for one team. It would skew my judgment.
Speaking of disgusting: Have you ever heard of a "sloppy carl"?
My friend who loves poop humor as much (more?) than I do told me about this and I almost fell out of my chair laughing.
Gene Weingarten: Uh, no. Actually. Which is why I can post this.
Hypothetic, AL: If you could name a disease after yourself, what would the symptoms be?
Gene Weingarten: Weingarten's Syndrome: Calcification and keratinization of the male genitalia.
Hallucinating Toast: Gene, lately I've been smelling toast in places where there is no bread being toasted -- at home, at the office, in stores, and even in the bathroom at work. What exotic and deadly disease could this smell hallucination be a sign of?
Gene Weingarten: It could be a sign of a small stroke. Seriously. Olfactory hallucinations sometimes have meaning. If you are otherwise feeling odd or porely, you might want to consult a neurologist.
Didn't expect that, did you?
Poll-and: Hi Gene and Liz,
Often I answer the poll on Mondays, before lots of people have responded. With the new polling software (which is otherwise quite nice) I can't go back to the poll easily to view the responses (i.e. on Tuesday or later in the week) or to view the responses from the other side. To do so, from what I can tell, involves voting again and leaving all answers blank (so as not to bias the outcome, of course). What's a hot female chat reader to do?
Gene Weingarten: Uh, you just go back in, and don't vote. You can see the answers, and no vote at all is registered. That's what I do, about two dozen times, to see how the voting is going.
Shuddering: I keep meaning to ask this: Gene, you've talked about your weird shuddering when you get out of the cold. My husband has a weird shudder that always makes me laugh - no, this isn't going where you think it is - he shudders after peeing. Is this a normal guy thing?
Gene Weingarten: No, but I've heard of it before. It is a vaso-vagal reaction, I believe. Some guys, to make themselves pee, have to tickle the small of their back. Same cause.
I couldn't make this stuff up.
po, NY: It seems Michael Martin Murphy is releasing a new album with --TWO-- new versions of Wildfire!
When I informed my spouse of this, he retorted, "That's really beating a dead horse."
washingtonpost.com: ROCK ON!
Gene Weingarten: That horse ain't just dead. It's stinkin' up the joint.
Urban dictionary: You should really be carefully about putting things like a "sloppy carl" out there. I am very sorry I looked it up
Gene Weingarten: Yes, Liz has just told me what it is. Okay, nobody look it up!
Can't stand the Beatles-ville: I don't like any Beatles songs. Some of their songs are not too bad when redone by other people, but the Beatles (and any ancillary Wings-type incarnations) make me want to run screaming from the room. One small exception: "Got my mind set on you," which is a real toe-tapper.
Gene Weingarten: I simply reject this as ridiculous.
Washington, D.C.: Do not try to pop a cyst! Cysts are usually filled with much more bacteria than zits and (if you're a wuss who is in the middle of eating you'd better stop reading now!) when you pop one, although much gunk will come out, much gunk will also "pop" into your bloodstream. This can cause a really bad blood infection. Seriously.
Gene Weingarten: This is true.
Arlington, Virginia: I have to respectfully disagree on the tax question. I think cheating on your taxes is repugnant. I also think that I would not turn in my husband while we were married, but not to protect him -- to protect ME. You know, credit ratings, ability to buy houses, etc.
Therefore, once we were legally divorced, my rationale for not turning him in would be removed. It's not about revenge at all.
Gene Weingarten: Interesting. But I would argue that under this circumstance you were complicit in his crime.
NSFW: Hey, how about a not safe for work warning. Geez are you trying to get me fired?
Gene Weingarten: WE SAID DON'T LOOK IT UP.
Right Under Your Nose: Gene,
Is it true that the Empress is the Post-Op Czar?
Gene Weingarten: She prefers to think about it as the Czar beging a pre-op Empress.
re: toast smell: Of course get checked out by a doctor but, I kid you not, it could also be a place where certain bug sprays have been used recently. I had a fruitfly problem recently, so was using a lot of Raid. A few hours after spraying, I'd always notice that my apartment smelled like burnt toast.
Gene Weingarten: I am in the middle of a bizarre fruitfly infestation. I may do a column about it. Those little things don't go down.
Lost appetite: Nope, doesn't bother me. I have yet to lose my appetite by looking at/reading something disgusting (not that I find book binding especially enticing).
Gene Weingarten: I also can drink six cups of coffee and then go to sleep.
Wou, nd: Henry Rollins, who is a semi-famous musician and also very opposed to the war, visits the troops at Walter Reed quite often and I've tried, in the one time I've had the opportunity, to do what he does. He says to never talk about the war or the mission, but to not be afraid to talk about their experiences as most of them want to talk about it. "Hey man, how's it going? What happened to you?" and let it branch from there. I'm sure most of them will open up since everyone else treats their injuries like the pink elephant in the room.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this is Trudeau's approach, too. "When were you hit?" is his first question. I don't have that self-confidence.
Flip side of "toast": I have had the illusion of smelling toast my whole life. I have no idea why it happens, but it does. Oddly, the sound of the All Things Considered opening theme song often brings it on. So it may not be a stroke.
Again, you couldn't make this stuff up...
Gene Weingarten: Okay, on this we leave. Thanks, all. See you next week, and in the updates.
Gene Weingarten: I forgot to address the most controversial question in the poll, and the only one where men and women were fairly dramatically split. What about hiring someone entirely on the basis of looks?
I expected women to disapprove, and by and large, they did. Men were split evenly, which surprised me. I expected them to give a pass to the looks-chooser. I did.
I think that given the question as written, it's okay to choose the better-looking person.
I know, I know. But think about this: When you are dealing with a choice between two identically qualified people, most hiring decisions will come down to certain intangibles, or basic prejudices. You know you aren't supposed to discriminate by age, but maybe it's a little more impressive that the 31-year-old was just as qualified as the 41-year-old? You know? Maybe one of them has a voice that grates on you a little?
I don't see choosing on the basis of looks -- all other things being equal -- as any different.
WBTL: If you added Beatles covers to the mix, you'd have a fine station. Better even than WTWP.
As I write this XM Deep Tracks Channel is playing Richie Havens' great version of Here Comes the Sun.
Gene Weingarten: You want something even better -- and I bet you've never heard this. I did. Here is Havens at Woodstock. Doing Strawberry Fields.
Yankee Fa, NS: Agree with you on some of the Prank War observations. The lack of outrage and anger at the end of the pranks seems suspicions. As far as Yankee fans go, Rick Reilly was quoted on Comcast SportsNet as saying, "Rooting for the Yankees is like hoping Brad Pitt gets lucky!"
Gene Weingarten: Ooh, that's good.
Moral Obligations: Would you feel morally obligated to tell someone (the person with whom you'd potentially have children, say) that you've had corrective surgery for your eyesight, breast enlargement/reduction, or some other surgery to change how you look (even slightly)? To me, that's the same thing as gender reassignment: you're changing something external about yourself to make you feel more comfortable. It may be polite to explain it, but, unless the person you're with wants to have children with you, I don't see why it's a moral obligation to tell them.
Gene Weingarten: Do you honestly feel this is the same thing? Because that may be a politically correct opinion, but it is a ridiculous opinion.
I keep coming back to this: Do you think it possible that a given man -- a reasonable, unprejudiced man -- might still feel deeply uncomfortable having sex with someone who had been a man, whose internal genitalia included a prostate gland, who has an Adam's Apple? Because if the honest answer is yes, then you have no right to deceive him like that. It's not just the "nicer" thing, it's the only moral thing. Sorry.
Prank W, AR: I believe them all. I wasn't sure about the baseball, not because of the slap (trust me, this can and does still happen) but because of reason for the slap. I would think that anyone in a serious relationship with Streeter would know about the prank war, and so it would not warrant a slap. However, I am now convinced and it is because of what Streeter said. Not, "It is a prank from Amir! Ha ha ha," but rather "I don't want to f---ing marry you." That made the slap real, in my mind.
Gene Weingarten: Ah, but we don't HEAR him saying that. We are INFORMED that he said that.
Gene Weingarten: I have just been reliably informed that, with the sound way up, you CAN hear Streeter say that. But, of course, that could have been scripted, too. And why would he say that? He KNOWS he has been pranked at that moment. I remain unconvince.
Hats off: I LOVE the "he had a hat joke" ever since I read it 15 years ago. It describes New York City pushiness so well!
Gene Weingarten: Here we go, from the Web.
A Jewish mother is walking with her small son along the shore, enjoying the sounds and smells of the ocean. Suddenly, without warning, a huge wave comes in and washes the boy out to sea. The woman screams, but no one is nearby, and she can't swim. She sees her son's head bobbing up and down as he cries for help and moves farther and farther from shore.
Desperate, she sinks to her knees in the sand. Pleading with God for mercy, she swears she will devote herself to good causes and be faithful in attending synagogue if God will spare her only child.
Suddenly another huge wave crashes in, and deposits her son, wet but unhurt on the sand. She lifts her face to the heavens, extends both arms and cries...
"He had a HAT!!!!"
Atlanta, Ga.: What do you make of this article in Slate.
Do you think the writer makes credible arguments against the study?
Gene Weingarten: I have no problem with this except for how seriously it took itself. He was just so ... peeved.
I don't think any of the liberals flogging this study took it seriously at all. I sure didn't; my whole attitude was nakedly opportunistic. The authors of the study took great pains not to draw sweeping conclusions.
So this guy just came off, in my opinion, as humorless. He was stating the obvious.
Saint Petersburg, Fla.: Gene -- my question isn't too timely, but I was offline last week. Although my local newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, prints your column, I usually read it on The Post Web site so that I can see Eric's artwork. (Rather than Eric's art, the Times uses an obviously PhotoShopped photo of you that makes you look somewhat pudgy.)
In your September 9 column, the memo to D.C. jailers, I was surprised to see a substantive difference between The Post and Times versions of the column. In The Post, you wrote, "If no penis doth unfurl, Chances are, you've got a girl." However, the text in the Times read, "If no wiener doth unfurl..."
So what did you originally write? Who's mucking with the beautiful poetic imagery?
Gene Weingarten: Ah, glad you asked. I wrote "penis." The Washington Post Writers Group, the syndicate that distributes the column, provided an alternative word if newspapers were uncomfortable with "penis." I had no objection to that.
washingtonpost.com: Memo to D.C. Jail Officials, (Post Magazine, Sept. 9)
Philadelph, IA: Gene;
Friend of mine sent me this article.
On one hand, it violates your "don't betray your marriage to another person" rule. On the other hand, couldn't this be viewed as a way to save their marriage as opposed to voiding it?
Gene Weingarten: It could be, if this story were true. I don't believe a word of it.
Confident Yankees Fans: Today, you described Yankees fans as "Loyal and very highly confident. "
But you sure didn't sound confident back in your May 30th chat:
Gene Weingarten: In 1999, when the Yanks won a second straight championship and were clearly headed for a third, I told Molly (18 at the time and a pretty new fan) to savor it while it lasted, because it would end. I meant it. I grew up with an invincible team, and was not ready for The Bad Years.
So, yeah. I think our run is over. This is a hole too deep from out to crawl.
Gene Weingarten: Ah, yes. But I amended that a month later, in an update. The Yankees were at the time still seven-and-a-half games out of first, and nowhere in the wild-card race, and I predicted they would win The World Series. I still predict it.
Olney, Md.: Why we hate the Yankees:
Griffin Whitman, a 10-year-old Red Sox fan from Swampscott, was excited to attend his first Yankees vs. Red Sox game Friday night. The young autograph collector was even more thrilled to score Yankees outfielder Shelley Duncan's signature before the game. That is, until Griffin read the message from the 27-year-old rookie: "Red Sox suck! Shelley Duncan."
Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.
You know, that was a very funny, special thing for Duncan to do for the kid. Seriously. I know you see that.
The Old Country & The New Country: True Story:
My grandmother was born "Chaia" (nickname "Chaike") in the "old country," arrived in the U.S. about 1910. She became "Clara." Relatives convinced her "Clara" was an old-fashioned name, so she changed it to "Ida." (Very fashionable around Eddie Cantor fans.)
Old Joke From My Old Jewish Father:
Mr. Finkelstein goes to court and asks (in a thick Yiddish accent) the judge to change his name to O'Hara. The judge approves the name change. A couple of months later, the petitioner returns, asking to change his name to Buckley. The judge asks why he wants to change his name again. The petitioner responds, "Because, people keep asking me what my name was before I had it changed, and I want to tell them 'O'Hara.'"
Gene Weingarten: Nice!
Poll Question: Although I was not confused by the moral problem in Question 1, I was confused by the logistical problem in the scenario. I do not see how intercourse would be satisfying for a man-to-woman transsexual -- the new equipment would have none of the required nerve endings. Gene, do you have the medical knowledge that would answer my question?
Gene Weingarten: I believe so, yes. The new clitoris is fashioned from penile tissue, with the same nerve endings and erectile capabilities. Moreover, penetration winds up massaging the prostate, which is actually a sensation that's unfamiliar to most heterosexual men. Maybe it's... better.
washingtonpost.com: Okay. This has gone far enough. Basta.
Raleigh, N.C.: What about just "Thank you for your service?" They went because we sent them. Doesn't seem like an endorsement of the mission or the policy to just thank them for going, for doing their job, is it?
Gene Weingarten: You know, "thank you for your service" sounds hollow to me, and freighted with things-better-left-unsaid. You see why, right?
Yarmulke Joke: I don't disagree about the tellableness of that joke but are you saying it doesn't play into the stereotype of having a unusual appreciation for money ?
Gene Weingarten: Not "unusual appreciation for money" so much as "cheap." It does play into that stereotype, but the question is, is that sterotype arguably true? I don't think the stigma is there; if it once was, it is gone. It's just an old, dangling stereotype, with nothing behind it, so it has no power to hurt.
Other stereotypes of Jews (and other groups) might be different. All Jewish men do not look like Alan Greenspan, but some do (like Alan Greenspan!) and jokes about Jewish appearance DO have a capacity to hurt. I think a joke suggesting black people are lawless has a capacity to hurt; Asian women as bad drivers, etc.
Burlington, Vt.: Hey, Gene... I just moved from Philly (where I was very very unhappy) to Burlington, Vt. (an area I love). I basically did it on a wing and a prayer. I had no job lined up, a place to sleep only until Oct. 1, and only enough cash to buy groceries and cover my immediate needs until I start working, wherever and whenever that is. I'm a writer, and I wanted to live in an area I love and WRITE, and do whatever I need to do to support that. I'm digging in and lining up interviews, readings, working on my writing, canvassing Craigslist, etc etc... with no definite work yet, I'm running out of cash (I have about $30 bucks on me at the moment) and here's the thing: I realize I could (and probably should) be scared shhhhhhIRT-less, but deep inside I just feel like this is the RIGHT MOVE. I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to make it work. I don't know how it's gonna play out, but I know it's gonna be all right. Can't explain it.
Did you ever do anything like that: make a move that everyone around you thought was madness, but in your heart and in the soul you don't believe in, it felt right? And how did it turn out?
Curious, not hot, not 20-something, not female, not panty-flinging
I am not hot. I have no panties to fling. Just a devotee taking a half hour out of his job hunt to check in.
Gene Weingarten: Sure. It relates directly to the poll! I was doing fine in college in my senior year, but dropped out with 3 or 5 credits to go. I had an idea for a magazine story, so I went to hang out with the teenage streetgangs in the South Bronx. It was scary but exhilarating, and it worked out.
Good luck, dude.
Resume, Tx: okay, so because nothing happened to you as a consequence of your truthful, but incomplete, resume, this makes the situation okay for all?
Boy -- that's some bad logic.
Gene Weingarten: That's not what I said.
I don't think saying you went to school for four years, and not specifying a degree, is lying. And several HR specialists wrote in to the chat to say that they knew exactly what this meant -- that it is common practice and not misleading.
In my case, to tell the complete story, it was pretty irrelevant. My first employer hired me BECAUSE I dropped out: They hired me as a reporter based upon that street gang story, and were impressed that I had taken that chance.
My second employer, the Detroit Free Press, hired me four years later based on my work at my first job. I am virtually certain that it didn't matter to them one whit if I had a college degree, and had they asked, I would have told them I didn't have one.
By the time I got to the Miami Herald and Post, I had a column-writing platform and I made sure to describe myself as a dropout on several occassions. Which, when I think about it, does suggest that I harbored some lingering doubts about whether I had done strictly right, back then.
Pocatello, ID: Googlenope:
Jean Paul Sartre Fan Club of Pocatello, ID
Gene Weingarten: Good.
My Na, ME: Gene,
As someone named Siobhan (but not O'Kelly O'Rourke), I just have to respond. It took me years to get to the point where I liked my name, but now I'm glad I have it and I wouldn't change it (one of my sisters changed hers from her original Gaelic name to something almost as unusual, but not Gaelic). Although it's much more common now than when I was growing up, I still get lots of questions about it and plenty of mispronunciations, although it's been years since I heard an original mispronunciation. I also like the fact that it reflects my Irish heritage and my parents' great love for the Irish language, even though people will sometimes ask the origin ¿ French? Japanese? Middle-Eastern? I find all of this quite amusing.
Recently, a friend of one of my sisters asked my mother to give her a Gaelic name. I suggested Roisin, but my mother said it was too common.
Gene Weingarten: Siobhan is an odd name in that it sounds beautiful (Shi-VOHN) but looks terrible. I always thing "slob." It's like some of those Brit names, Leicester being pronounced "Lester," or Cholmondeley being pronounced "Chumley." Chumley is a nice sound.
Gene Weingarten: My learned friend Horace LaBadie adds also -- Marjoribanks becomes Marchbanks, and Featherstonehaugh becomes Fanshaw.
Princeton, N.J.: When was the last time you cried, and what were the circumstances?
Gene Weingarten: The important question is not the last time I cried. I cry sometimes. The important question is the last time I cried in front of another human being. And I'm not going to tell you that.
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