Chatological Humor: He's Back (Updated 1.9.09)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2009; 12:00 PM

Daily Updates: WED | THURS | FRI

Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

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, Weingarten 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.

This Week's Poll

Not chat day? Visit the Gene Pool.

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 and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs" with photographer Michael Williamson.

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.

It's been many weeks since we've spoken, and much has happened that requires comment, demands explanation, compels apology, etc. This introduction will be so long, and so complex, that most of you will remain behind the chat in real time, catching up as if magically the very instant the chat ends. This will signal a great moment in Chat Physics, establishing once and for all a Unified Theory of Chats.

Our first item refers back to my column a few weeks ago on pet peeves. There is an interesting story behind it: Tom the Butcher cut several peeves that I thought were good, including this one: "People who say something, then say, 'I'm just saying'." We disagreed about that. But we disagreed more strongly about another one that Tom cut because he contended no one but I had ever experienced it. Since I could not prove otherwise, and deadline approached, I acceded graciously to this cut, even though the item was (to me) so peevishly warranted that it had been the first on my list.

Two weeks passed. The column was done, edited, gone. And one Sunday afternoon, Tom called me to apologize: The peeve had happened to HIM, that very day, and he deeply regretted having removed this from the column. (You have no idea how rare an apology from T the B is.)

So, here it is, the unprinted pet peeve, hereby reinstated and archived:

"The inextinguishable guilt you feel after this occurs: You are watching a game but momentarily lose track of the action, and find yourself exulting when something bad happens to your team."


Now, we have an interesting development. I will explain it as soon as you take this magnificent and historic INSTAPOLL: 37 and under/38 and older.

This Instapoll was occasioned by an e-mail I got from Greg Arnold, referring to a recent column where I noted that, like many baby boomers, I felt like a geezer because for the first time in my life, the president of the United States will be younger than I. Greg said he got the same feeling last weekend when he noted that a caption-writer in The Washington Post actually thought it necessary to point out that Harry Truman was "second from right" in a photo of old white guys. So, that's the point of the Instapoll. Are the yoot among us actually unsure of what Harry looked like?


In these last many years, my opinions on matters large and small have diverged from the opinions of the majority of you, but perhaps never as dramatically -- and emotionally -- as on the issue of whether it is okay to tap the bumpers of others' cars when entering or exiting an urban parking space. I think it is fair to say that we are at an impasse. We have both staked out our positions, they differ totally: You have essentially declared me a vandal, and I have essentially declared you all insufferable car weenies, and that's that.

Or is it? It occurred to me that there might be one way to reasonably resolve this issue. I wrote to Randy Cohen, the Ethicist in the New York Times, a man disinclined to exuse inexcusable behavior.

In the interests of full, arm's-length disclosure, I am including the entirety of our exchange, so you see that I am not trying to imbalance the playing field or seek favorable treatment from a professional colleague.

"Hey, Randy. I suspect I'm not supposed to go over to the other side, but I've already discussed this issue ad nauseam with readers in my own online chat, without satisfactory resolution. (By which I mean, most of them disagree with me.) So I'm putting it to you. This is perhaps more of a Miss Manners question, but I think I can frame it adequately as a matter of ethics. Plus, it has New York based overtones, as I am a New Yorker by birth and habit and most of my readers are not. So here we go. Please answer exactly as you would in your column:

"Dear Ethicist: In my downtown neighborhood, on-street parking is scarce, so cars park close together. In getting into and out of parking spaces, the occasional bumper-tap seems almost unavoidable (indeed, is strategically wise.) My suburban friends say this amounts to an assault on others' property, and that however much it may lengthen one's maneuvering time, one must avoid even the slightest tap. I say it's called a bumper because it's meant to be bumped, and so long as no serious dinging occurs, it's no ethical lapse. Who is right?"

Here's the Ethicist's answer:

"Neither. A city dweller, at least one who lives where there is decent mass transit, who has a strong sense of ethics will not routinely use a private car. In doing so, he inflicts on his neighbors all manner of harm -- the fumes he emits, the costly infrastructure he requires, the distorted foreign policy to keep the oil flowing, the thousands of serious injuries automobile accidents bring to other people, to name just a bit of that damage. Ethics concerns the effects of our actions on others, and when you drive unnecessarily, your effect on those others is grave indeed."

(Inasmuch as I drive fewer than 3,000 miles a year, that issue, The Ethicist agreed, was moot. So he continued:)

"More narrowly, whenever one ventures out into the world, there is a certain amount of wear and tear -- on the body, on the spirit, on the bumper -- that one is sure to encounter. A small tap on the bumper is entirely routine and thoroughly predictable: It goes with driving. It is not something for which you can demand compensation. How slight? Honorable people can differ, but to elevate the ordinary minor bumps to "an assault on others' property" is truly goofy. If you demand your car remain so pristine, keep it in your garage or in one of those auto museums like Liberace opened. But more serious dents, well, there the person who causes one must make good that damage."

--The Ethicist

I declare the issue forever closed.


In a previous chat, a woman posted that she had recently used one of those self-cleaning toilet seats in Europe, that it had malfunctioned and she had nearly been propelled off the seat by its actions. Rick Wise found this exceptional video from Sweden, on a related issue. It is our first Clip of the Day.

Our second Clip of the Day is NOT SAFE FOR WORK. REPEAT, NOT SAFE FOR WORK unless you happen to have headphones. The problem here is not images, it is language and subject matter. There is the n-word, and worse.

The important sequence begins at one minute, 20 seconds.

I discovered this by accident, after seeing Frost/Nixon (good) and wanting to do some historical verification. This is a clip from the original British version of David Frost's "That Was the Week That Was," and I think it is the single most daring and noble failure of satire I have ever seen.

It was performed a few days after yet another lynching in Mississippi in 1963. There is no question that the heart was in the right place, and that this was performed to decry American Southern racism. There is also no question that this is a dismal failure: Nobody is laughing, and you can see Millicent Martin's excruciating realization that this isn't working almost from the start. What I find fascinating about it, though, is that it was attempted. In 1963. And that someone green-lighted it.


Also on the subject of public outrage, we have this real ad. Repeat: This is a real ad from the 1950s. See if you can count the ways it is offensive.


I think we're almost done here. If you haven't already taken TODAY'S POLL and want to now, we will see you long after the chat is over, archived, discussed on message boards, etc. You will be missed.


Comic Pick of the Week: The whole "Buttocks" series in Pearls before Swine (Thu | Fri | Sat). First Runner-Up: Wednesday's Doonesbury. Saturday's Speed Bump, today's Mother Goose and Grimm, Sunday's Pickles, Sunday's Lio.


Greenbelt, Md.: A Doonesbury flashback wins a spot in the CPOW? Wow.

Gene Weingarten: It was a flashback! Agh! I withdraw it.


Dangerously Ignorant: I'm pretty sure I did prety well on the quiz. But here's the scary part: There are some questions where I was only one of 8 or 10 people who answers a certain way and my first reaction was that I must just be really smart.

After taking a closer look though I realized that maybe I've just convinced myself that I'm right. That type of ignorance is terrifiying to me.

How many people are walking around 100% sure of completely screwed up facts? How can we police ourselves against this practice?

Gene Weingarten: You did not do as well as you think you did.

Gene Weingarten: In this case, unlike "So You Want To Be A Millionaire," the ask-the-audience consensus is right in all but one answer.

Gene Weingarten: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.


Poll reaction: I am surprised that so many people got "of the people, by the people, for the people" wrong. I guess I thought everyone had to memorize the Gettysburg address in grade school. I'm not surprised at confusion over "one right or freedom guaranteed by the first amendment", since I remember what's included in amendments in general, but not which number corresponds with which right. The only one that really shocked me was that so many people picked "If taxes equal government spending, then tax per person equals government spending per person". There's no logical correlation in that sentence at all. People did really well on a lot of these questions, so does that mean that people searched for the answers, since the last one is probably least googleable? Cheaters!

Gene Weingarten: Some years ago, it was revealed that something like 30 percent of all Americans identified "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his means" as coming from the U.S. Constitution. I am no longer surprised at much.


Gene Weingarten: Er, according to his needs.


College park, Md.: The bumper case is not closed. The ethicist said that you may only cause "slight" damage to a car. If you scratch a a chrome bumper at all, there is no way to stop the rust and the bumper must be replaced (happened to me). That is no longer slight damage. As that is major damage, the ethicist made clear it is unacceptable.

Gene Weingarten: Nonsense. Get yourself some real bumpers. If you bought a car with Limoges bumpers, it's not my fault if they shatter.


Ethics: Would you have even posted about your discussions with the Ethicist if it hadn't gone your way?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I would have.


Style: Gene,

Enjoyed Hank Stuever's story on Style's anniversary today. I got my first taste of Dave Barry (and by, extension, I assume, your editing of Dave) as a kid reading the Style section in KC. So, without Bradlee's lobbying for the soon-to-be-imitated format, would Dave (and, by extension, I assume, you) ever have gained such a large following? Us 40? We're Trying to Recall..., (Post, Jan. 6)

Gene Weingarten: Yes. Dave didn't need Style sections to find real estate in newspapers. Papers would have found someplace for him, even if it was across from the comics or the hemmorhoid ads.

I loved Hank's piece.

One little side note: Hank refers, discreetly, to a "snit" that occurred when Style ran a "best of" 25-year retrospective and some writers were ticked off that their work wasn't excerpted. He does not mention that the editor whose unhappy, thankless job it was to select the excerpts was ... me. And while an excellent and descriptive word, "snit" does not quite convey the tsunami of ego-engorged bile and phlegm that washed over me afterwards. Meetings were held to permit ventings and soothings of injured feelings. At least one anonymous letter was circulated at my expense.

I think I made the right choices. If possible, tomorrow, in the updates, I will link to the entire 25-year retrospective.


Al Franken: Does he represent the first comedian and/or comedy writer to be elected to federal office?

Gene Weingarten: I think so. Though, appropriately, there's been more than one song-and-dance man.


Bethesda, Md.: I'd like to hear from the following people:

1. The single voter that thought the inalienable rights are "life, respect, and equal protection."

2. The single voter that thought FDR's program was called the New Frontier.

3. The single voter that thought the three branches were federal, state, and local.

4. The single voter that thought the electoral college was established for TV debates (what?!).

5. The single voter that thought Susan B. Anthony wanted harsher laws against criminals. I wonder how many petitions "ending women's suffrage" that person has signed.

6. The idiot (sorry, but this is ridiculous) that thought we fought Canada and Mexico during WWII.

What were their reasons behind their votes? I demand to know the thought process that went through these votes. How stupid must it make you feel to finish the poll and realize you're the only person to vote for an answer, when the right answer usually has numbers in the hundreds or tens of hundreds?

Gene Weingarten: I think some of those votes, maybe all of them, were jokes. But certainly #6.


Poll: Ha-ha, suckers, you got number 33 wrong.

Gene Weingarten: Correct.

Okay, here are the answers: In each case except the last, the majority got the right answer.

It is entirely possible to have a huge debt, but have taxes and spending be even for a given year.

Gene Weingarten: In other words, you'd have no budget deficit, but you'd have a national debt. Two different things.


RICHMOND: I stopped the test about half way through cuz I got bored--what does that say about me?

Gene Weingarten: That you didn't know the answers.


Gene Weingarten: Re: A comedian in Congress, Chatwoman reminds us of Sonny Bono.

I still say Franken is the first comedian.


Herndon, Va.: What if you scratch someone's bumper while trying to squeeze in between two cars parked at two metered parking spots because YOU think there's enough space for a third car?

Gene Weingarten: It's a bumper.


New York: "The inextinguishable guilt you feel after this occurs: You are watching a game but momentarily lose track of the action, and find yourself exulting when something bad happens to your team."

That's happened to me too! I hate it, I feel like I've betrayed my team and that I'm proving women can't be good sports fans.

Gene Weingarten: It's deep and penetrating and universal. You can't ever really forgive yourself for it.

I like the gender angst, too!


as go bumbers, so goes the rest: Don't touch my stuff and I won't touch your stuff. Period. No waivers for certain neighborhoods or geographic locations. Don't mess with my bumber and I won't hurt your car. We each respect the other's private belongings.

Gene Weingarten: I will stay away from your bumber.


Atlanta, Ga.: Can you explain today's Get Fuzzy? What are the "haikus" that Satchel is chasing in the subway?


Gene Weingarten: It doesn't matter. It was funny.


New York, NY: Gene, I have a situation that can only be addressed by you and the chatters. I'm a big boy (6'6", 285 lbs) but a certain important part of my male anatomy is quite small. You may not believe me but I'm honestly OK with this. I enjoy using the part and most of the people I have used it with have seemed satisfied. My only anxiety involves the big reveal. I have this fear that I'm going to detect the slightest expression of disappointment on the girl's face once she sees the part, as if I had somehow tricked her into participating, as if there were an implicit promise of something more substantial.

So, my defense in the past has been to bring it up before hand. When things start to get amorous I might say something like, "You should know, I have a tiny -part]." Usually this gets a laugh and the whole thing becomes a little joke that we both enjoy. A couple of times though, people have been freaked out that I brought it up.

I wonder what you and the chatters thing. Should I just pretend like everything is normal and ignore the issue? If I insist on bringing it up before hand in a joking manner, is there a better way to joke about it? Basically I want the girl to know the situation before hand without thinking that I care or am "hung up" on the issue, so to speak.

I love this chat.

Gene Weingarten: Me, too.

I am going to put this out there and ask for answers only from women. We don't care what the guys think.


Left us hanging!: What is the answer for #33 then?

I said 4 because it sounds like you are dividing equal amounts (taxes = spending) by the exact same number (persons). They would be equal.

A silly answer, but I say correct.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, that is correct. And a stupid question. But the only logical answer.


Bumpers: How does you hitting my bumper differ from me hitting your knees when I recline my seat on an airplane?

Gene Weingarten: My knees are not built to be bumped. They do not exist for the purpose of sustaining impact from elsewhere.


Falls Church, Va.: Is this not one of the most offensive articles ever written by what's supposed to be a credible news source?

Gene Weingarten: Uh, no.

Apart from the sudden,startling appearance of someone named Achenbach who is not Joel, I see nothing offensive about this article. It raises an interesting question to which I have no immediate answer.

Men have different skeletons and musculature than women do. The question of whether a transgendered athlete should be able to compete as a woman seems like a legitimate question.

What am I missing?

_______________________ I think the joking approach is a good one, as long as it is truly good natured and doesn't veer into self-pity. And maybe while mentioning any shortcomings, be sure to also highlight your strengths.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


New York, N.Y.: It's a private bumper that you have left in public. You have no more of an expectation that your bumper won't be bumped on a U.S. city street than you do not getting pushed onto a Japanese subway car. As Gene says, that's what bumpers are for.

Gene Weingarten: This is well put.


Madoff: Gene - if you ever do another chat, could you just note for the record that Madoff is one of the great aptonyms of all time. Thank you.

Gene Weingarten: It is. One of my deep regrets is that having been chatless so long, I didn't get to point this out first.


I lied: I was sure I knew that the guy on the right was Truman. But that picture is comical to someone my age -- that is, Liz's age. Three codgers in glasses. Which one's Harry Truman? That's a toughie! I was hoping there would be a dog in the picture, actually. That would have been awesome. I'm ashamed of my fellow youngsters. Was everyone stoned in American history class?

Gene Weingarten: It's stunning!

Gene Weingarten: The instapoll numbers so far are really alarming. Look at yourselves, yoots!


Bumper Nazis: Gene, I still contend that these bumper nazis have to be the absolute WORST people in bed. Can you imagine? "I didn't say you could touch _there_!" or "That isn't supposed to be used that way!" etc. etc.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.


Urban Lege, ND: Now you've really made it big: Joshua Bell Plays in Subway

Gene Weingarten: Wow. A true story so famous it becomes an urban legend!

Interestingly, while the central premise is obviously true, the recapitulation of it here in the Snopes-examined email contains seven distinct errors of fact, some small, some large. Can anyone find them all?

Gene Weingarten: Hint: Three alone are in the first paragraph.


To Bethesda, Md.: I'm the single voter who went for "life, respect and equal protection".

I'm not American. Gene's got a wide audience, you know.

I wanted life and liberty in there, but knew property couldn't be right. But the pursuit of happiness? I didn't think it sounded right, either. I could have cheated with Google but I didn't.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for fessing up!

Actually, the original wording, as I recall, WAS life, liberty and property. They decided that sounded too crass.


A Woman: Well, I'm laughing, and would not be at all freaked out. Well played, sir.

Gene Weingarten: Yay.


The Poll: Before you heap praise on your readers for getting so many of the questions correct, I think the not-so-bright among us avoided the poll altoghether.

For evidence, I point to your poll on 9 December, which gathered 3,951 responses. Your poll on 2 December gathered 4,658 responses and the one on 25 November gathered 4,889 responses.

Today's? Less than 2,000.

I'm just saying.

Gene Weingarten: We're not done yet.


"Part" Reve, AL: Don't bring it up beforehand - we don't really like to look at those specific parts much anyway, and if you're good at using it, that's fine by us.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks.


Richmond, Va.: I once dated a guy with that characteristic and it was his actions that worried me. He acted ashamed. I sympathize, but felt that his anxious behavior was more worrisome than the actual equipment, which had worked fine.

Gene Weingarten: Also, thanks. And we'll let the next one stand for a while, as it were:


Washington, D.C.: Don't bring it up beforehand. that's so creepy and weird.

I would say that women can get a general idea before the "reveal" if you're doing anything before the "reveal" that resembles foreplay.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Small "part": So I dated this guy that was 6'7". I was very curious to see his... situation, because, well, you have to wonder if there's correlation. There was not. After a momentary (and I mean like 3 seconds) of "hmm... bummer," I was over it. And believe me when I say there was a looooong build up (like years) for me to wonder. Girls really don't care that much as long as it gets the job done. I wouldn't joke about it, because that says that you ARE hung up on it. You care so much more than any girl ever will.

Gene Weingarten: Men find it hard to believe women actually feel this way, but y'all seem to. Women are so much better than men.


Big boy, small...part: Question: is he really on the small side, or just small in proportion to the rest of him? I like the idea of bringing up. Frankly, a guy who is much bigger scares the crap out of me and it'd be nice to know going in.

Gene Weingarten: You said "going in."


Silver Spring, Md.: Nearly every time I take the poll, the results screen will show my vote wrong on one question. This week, it was the one about progressive taxation -- I am absolutely sure I said "C," but the poll software says I said "D."

I am confident that I did not hit the wrong button.

Anybody else reporting this?

Gene Weingarten: I'm putting this out there.


2D, color on Sunday: You once called 9 Chickweed Lane "reprehensible." Why? Is it the pseudo-sophistication? The unbearably snotty and phony way the characters speak? The lack of chins?

While we're there, have you followed the latest story, in which Amos and Edda finally have sex? I wonder: Is this the first time a character has lost his or her virginity ("maidenhood" in the strip) in the comics?

And finally, I had to laugh when I saw this, in which McEldowney whines about the cruel realities of deadline to explain why the loss-of-virginity storyline is on hiatus.

Gene Weingarten: Interestingly enough, we appear to be watching the deflowering of Cory this very week in "Watch Your Head."

Liz, can we link to one or two? Watch Your Head: Jan. 3 | Jan. 5 | Jan. 6


Style Section: The relationship between The Post and its city is sometimes not understood by people from other places, or people with a different view of what a newspaper is and should be.

For me, the thump of The Post on the front stoop formally marks the beginning of the day, and things I hear about on the Internet or television aren't quite "real" to me until I read them in The Post. Even as print is supposed to be dying, The Post still occupies a large place in the city's cultural and intellectual life.

I submit that the Style section is not just A reason the Post occupies this position, but the main one. It has lots of imitators but I have not seen anything better.

You can get the news from the Times or WSJ. But only Style is as cheekily right; and no other paper is as generous with comics. Ben Bradlee, everyone.

Gene Weingarten: Clapclapclapclap.


Car Bumpers, again: I submit that both you and the Ethicist see your cars as a mode of transportation rather than something greater. There are some true car hobbyists out there for whom the car is a wonderful thing, not quite on par with a love affair, but close.

My husband loves our car, a Mustang GT (modified after-market). He's a gearhead in the truest sense and has spent a lot of time tuning and refining the car's performance to eke out maximum horsepower. He goes nuts over door dings and the like, which prompts us to park as far away from any entrance as possible so that there are no vehicles within door-opening or bumper-tapping range. We wash and wax the car on a weekly basis to keep it looking nice.

We recently had to get a new tire and had to use the donut for about a weekend. This made the car sit lower than usual, and I mistakenly pulled in too deeply to a parking space. I bent and scratched the chin spoiler, which is an aftermarket plastic peice painted and striped like the rest of the car that hangs below the bumper and "finishes the look" of the muscle car. There are some missing paint flakes, some scratches, and the stiping is ragged on the part that goes underneath. I saw this as regrettable, but minor. After all, we're talking about something a foot off of the ground here. He saw this as a major defilement of his car. It is now longer as pretty! It shows he doesn't care for his car!

I have had to promise him it will be replaced or repaired as soon as we have the money. In the meantime, I ordered touch-up paint to cover the worst of it.

I don't see either of our views as absolutely correct. It's just a different way we view the car itself. As long as we can afford it, why not take the extra time and effort to keep the car in the condition he wants?

Gene Weingarten: You have no business driving that car anywhere. It should be in a museum, where you can truly appreciate its wonderfulness.


Washington, D.C.: for the "big" guy:

when I was dating (now engaged), I'd always do a little "reconnaissance" through the guy's pants prior to any jiggery-pokery.

Chances are, the women you're with know already, and probably don't care at the naked point, so when you joke about it, it lets them know you're ok with it.

Keep up the good work.

-from a wicked hot 33-year-old girl

Gene Weingarten: Reconnaissance!


This Chat: Gene, women chiming in on anatomical parts and their preferences has me disturbingly aroused at work. Can you please put a stop to it? Thanks

Gene Weingarten: No.


Interestingly enough, we appear to be watching the deflowering of Cory this very week in "Watch Your Head." : That raises the question of which head we're discussing.

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.


Who Are These People?: Gene, I am absolutely stunned by the vitriol from the bumper-weenies! Having lived in Glover Park, Dupont Circle, and now Capitol Hill (all tough parking areas), I actually am HAPPY when people make the best use of the limited curb space we have. I am a bumper tapper, not a bumper banger, but I WILL get my car in there, especially if the alternative is having to walk six blocks.

Keep the cars in their garages, folks, if you can't handle normal wear and tear.

Gene Weingarten: I have calculated that if my goal is to avoid a tap at all costs, meaning you have to allow about 4 to six extra unused inches per rollback or roll forward, in many cases it results in four or five extra maneuvers to park or unpark a car. Preposterous.


Instapoll: But Gene, you only asked if people are certain, pretty sure, or don't know which one's Truman. I (a 27-year-old female) am certain I know which one's Truman. But someone else could be certain and wrong. This poll doesn't prove that chatters of any age actually do know what Truman looks like--it just says how many people think they do.

Gene Weingarten: Nah, I think if you're sure, you're sure.


Washington, D.C.: The gender swapping golfer article is offensive. Just look at the end of it: "As a sensitive women, Lawless knows what it's like to lose. After falling 1 yard short in the 2007 semifinals and being eliminated, she had cried.

Cried herself a river, just like the girl she always wanted to be."

The content is nothing compared to the offensiveness of the grammar.

Gene Weingarten: Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Okay, I hadn't read to the end. You're right.


Vintage ad: My office mate says that the most offensive thing about that ad is that the model is ugly.

Gene Weingarten: I see.


Randy Cohen is right: If you live in a city, you should not own a car. You rent cars for those extremely rare occasions when you take trips to places not served by public transportation. No one ever has to park a rented car.



Tiny Part: I dated the hottest guy and he had a tiny part. I tell people this because he was a real arse. I wouldn't worry about it too much, we date you because we like you and continue to sleep with you because we care about you not because of your part. Case in point some times when my friend gets drunk she tells us her husband has a small part, but I know that she is madly in love with him. It's just a sort of sharing and discovering through her girlfriend's responses that most of you don't really have big parts you just think everyone else does.

But be warned any woman you are a jerk to will tell all her friends about your part.

Gene Weingarten: I think I have noted this before, but I once read the results of a poll where something like 75 percent of men rated their penises "smaller than average."


Keep the cars in their garages, folks, if you can't handle normal wear and tear.: Sorry Marie Antoinette, but some of us DON'T HAVE GARAGES.

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.


McLean: Gene, you have previously admitted to a cognitive condition where you have trouble recognizing people's faces. So how is it that you can easily recognize Harry Truman in the picture?

Gene Weingarten: Because I have seen his face thousands of times in pictures. I could also recognize William McKinley's.


Bethesda, Md.: Okay, so I'll accept wrong answers from someone who identifies as being "not an American." It is an American civics test after all. I didn't mean to sound like a smarty pants. Except on the Canada/Mexico answer. That person is still an idiot.

Gene Weingarten: That person is messing with us.


New punctuation mark: I think there should be a punctuation mark that's between a period and an exclamation point. Sometimes you want to be a little firmer in your statement than a period, but a little less emphatic than an exclamation point. What do you think? I was thinking of a backwards semicolon.

Gene Weingarten: I believe that function is achieved by ending a sentence with an ellipsis followed by ... a phrase.

This reminds, me, though, of a recent email I received notifying me of the official death of the interrobang, a punctuation mark I never knew was alive. Liz, can we link to the now defunct and barely missed interrobang? The Interrobang.


Santa Rosa, Calif.: You are my favorite columnist, bar none.

Gene Weingarten: You dont even read my column, Pastis. But you're welcome.


comic,AL: What's your opinion on the "pseudo-affair" plot line in Sally Forth? Although it would be scandalous, and since the strip is called "Sally Forth," unlikely, for Ted to take Aria up on her offer I think it would be a huge improvement to the strip for him to develop a backbone. Otherwise I think Sally will just say "walkies!" and he will follow her home like the good dog that he is.

Gene Weingarten: I am annoyed by possessiveness in marrige, so I am annoyed by this plot line. Having said that, it is an interestingly ambiguous dynamic, and I respect the writers for it: Nothing is "going on," and yet both parties are disturbed. So is, in fact, something "going on"?

To me, the great part of the Sally Forth storyline is Sally's ma constantly intimating that Ted is a woman.


Como, DE: Gene,

Why can't we use the horseshoe toilet seats in our homes? I only see them in public rest rooms, and it seems like they could resolve a sticky situation. Do women's restroom ever use the horseshoe?

Gene Weingarten: Wow. I don't know!

And we can find out so easily!

Women: Do ladies' rooms ever have the horseshoe toilet seat?

Do you even know what a horseshoe seat is?


Canada/Mexico answer: They read the question wrong and thought it was World War III.

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.


THIS IS NOT FAIR: How come we can discuss the size of man parts but not the grooming of women parts? I'm a girl, and what group of guys can I ask about that and get honest answers?

Liz, pretty please...

Gene Weingarten: Liz has put her foot down on this issue. I have tried to argue with her, and tried, and tried, but now I am bushed.


Washington: "find yourself exulting when something bad happens to your team."

If it's football, you can always fake it and say you thought you saw a penalty flag, and thought the bad play was going to be reversed.

Or just say that the guy making the play against your team is on your fantasy team.

Gene Weingarten: But that doesn't cure the damage within your soul.


Washington: "find yourself exulting when something bad happens to your team."

If it's football, you can always fake it and say you thought you saw a penalty flag, and thought the bad play was going to be reversed.

Or just say that the guy making the play against your team is on your fantasy team.

Gene Weingarten: Er, please apply previous answer to this question.


TMShi, NE: Hey Gene,

Have you ever met or conversed with this T.M. Shine fellow who did the articles on Random Acts of Indecision and Chairs of Power in the Magazine?

I kinda feel like he has a similar sense of humor as you and his writing style carries a similar voice. Seems like you two would get along. (or maybe you'd hate each other for being similar...)

-Comedy Matchmaker.

Gene Weingarten: Uh, yeah.

I discovered T.M. Shine in Miami in 1985. I published his first story. And his second story. And his third, fourth, and fifth. Then, together with Tom the Butcher, I helped persuade him to quit his job managing a Walgreens and become a full-time writer.

So, yeah. We are not unaquainted.


VPL!: Hi Gene-

Yesterday, my girlfriend told me about something unbelievable - VPL...ON MEN! She said it's typically older men wearing briefs and possibly ill-fitting pants. Has any of your extensive research covered this?

By the way, nice job on that ISI quiz. I got 30 out of 33 and was feeling pretty good. I can't help but thank my American University education for that.

Happy New Year.

Gene Weingarten: I AM an old man with ill-fitting pants. Please someone tell me this is not true.


Native Californian: My home state sent George Murphy to the US Senate in 1964. I think he was the first literal "song-and-dance man" elected.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, and this was pointed out in a famous Chad Mitchell Trio song.

Also, Shirley Temple.


Jeff City MO: RE: The Week That Was.

Okay, perhaps a decade too early and you consider it poor satire. strikes me as something Mel Brooks would have done 8-10 years later. C'mon, look at a lot of the material in Blazing Saddles. It was exactly like this. In fact, I'm surprised he didn't use this, or at least a derivative.

No way it could be done today but then again, Blazing Saddles couldn't be done today.

Gene Weingarten: It's an interesting comparison, but a major difference is that this was LIVE TV.


Horseshoe toilet seat: Yes, our bathrooms have them. I'm not sure how this helps the public restroom toilet problem, frankly.

Gene Weingarten: Well, it makes sense with men.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Gene,

My wife and I returned from two weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia recently, and thought you'd like to know that imitations of Kessler's dog paintings are very popular there. We talked to one shop owner who told us that he employed 36 artists to copy the works of a variety of painters, and that he found Kessler's work on the Internet. We plan to show him a photo we took of a fake Kessler (is it a fake if the seller readily concedes that it's not actually painted by Kessler) painting the next time we see him.

Gene Weingarten: Daniel Patrick Kessler is a friendly man who exhibits his paintings every weekend at Eastern Market. His dogs are the equivalent of Keane's children, with one major exception: The dogs are whimsical, the kids are maudlin. Ergo, the kids are a cynical effort to sell schlock as art; the dogs are a amiable, arm's-length effort to sell shlock as schlock.

I like Kessler's dogs. His architectural paintings are better.


Washington, D.C.: How's this for an aptonym?

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Ed McMahon's publicist says the TV icon and his wife are staying put in their home. Publicist Howard Bragman confirmed Thursday...

Gene Weingarten: Nice.


Small Penis: My wife has very unattractive breasts. I didn't know this until the "reveal" but I love her regardless. If she had joked about this beforehand, I would have been suspicious that she was insecure. Instead she seems at ease with her ugly stepsisters. Applying a correlary I think the guy should just let things happen naturally and skip the comedy routine. See, this is a more apples to apples comparison than member size vs. women's grooming habits. And I have no problem with this line of discussion being pursued.

Gene Weingarten: But it's the WOMEN who want the grooming discussion, not the men. The men are very respectful of women's privacy and have no prurient interest in this subject at all.


Washington, D.C.: Liz, I'm going to plead with you that womanscaping be discussed. As a woman who has kind of lagged behind the trend with womanscaping, I have been forced to rely on the opinions of men I was dating for grooming advice. To be honest, I only really trust this forum for honest advice. Besides, there are women out there that just have no freaking clue and need to be educated. This would be a public service. Please reconsider.

P.S. I think Daniel Craig is hot if that helps my cause. Maybe Gene's other .com colleagues will allow him to post a thread about womanscaping to the Gene Pool.

Gene Weingarten: No such luck. Liz is the sluttiest of all my editors, lack-of-censorship-wise.


British Phrase?: I was rereading "Bridget Jones's Diary" (which is so brilliant) and noticing all the British references I sort of glossed over the first (two) times.

What does the phrase "to get [one's] feet under the table" mean? As in, "Very much the Little Madam. Elaine thinks she's desperate to get her feet under the table." Couldn't find it on Google. Desperate to get married?

Gene Weingarten: According to the Oxford English Dic, it means to establish oneself in a new occupation; apparently, there is also connotation in which it might mean to marry into comfortable wealth.


Rockville, Md.: Drawing your attention to a great blog entry from Monday.

Speaking as someone who recently underwent that same procedure and who, on occasion, has probably jiggled the sensors at the National Earthquake Center, I can attest to the fact that breaking wind after said procedure was truly, TRULY satisfying. Also, I received a very favorable review of my efforts from the nurse in attendance.

My wife is scheduled for same procedure later this week. I e-mailed Kelly's blog entry to her and told her she had to make best efforts to rattle the surgery center's foundation if she wanted to be released from the hospital.

Gene Weingarten: As you might expect, in my hypochondria book, I devoted a great deal of time to the art and science of the fart.

At one point I describe what happened to me after I had a biopsy to check out the extent of damage to my liver after years of living with Hepatitis C. I was required to lie still for 6 hours on a gurney in a room reserved mostly for people who had just undergone colonoscopies.

A colonoscopy, I wrote, is "a routine examination of the colon in which doctors give you general anesthesia and then puff your intestines up with air to check for abnormalities. So, after a liver biopsy, you get to spend six hours lying down, contemplating death, in a roomful of people loudly farting themselves awake."


Malden, Mass.: Hey Gene, it's me, Mulva. So I was getting my hair cut for the first time at a new place, and on the counter of her workstation the hairdresser has a picture of her dog, who looks exactly like Murphy, so I say "your dog is beautiful, he's a Plott hound, right?" and she can't believe anyone knows a Plott hound. I said "A friend of mine has one. Actually he's not exactly a friend, just a guy I know. Actually I don't even know him, he's, um, ahh...never mind..." My husband said I should just have said "this guy I've been stalking for a few years has one." Happy New Year, whatever you are...

Gene Weingarten: I am your pretend boyfriend.

Once you head far enough south, Plott hounds become as common as mosquitoes, I'm told. They're the state dog of North Carolina. Audrey a neighbor of mine who has an old country place in W. Va. says HER neighbor there just got a Plott puppy who is being taught, as is his ancestral custom, to hunt for bears. Murphy mostly hunts for a comfortable place to sleep.


George Murphy: "Yes, and this was pointed out in a famous Chad Mitchell Trio song."

Are you sure you don't mean Tom Lehrer? It started "California's always tried to mix/Hollywood with politics/From Helen Gehagen/To Ronald Reagan?/But Mr. Murphy is the star/Who done the best by far."

Gene Weingarten: I don't think so. Maybe. The song I am remembering is a soft shoe, I think, and ends with ... a song and a dance.


Washington, DC: Since this is embarrassing question what age does virginity in a woman become a liability? How does one broach this with new partners?

Gene Weingarten: Virginity never needs to be acknowledged.


Only in this Chat: Could "sluttiest" be considered a compliment. Oy! If only you could see me. I'm beaming.

Gene Weingarten: Deservedly so. It is why I am not giving her more grief on this topiary thing.


Edit, OR: "Liz is the sluttiest of all my editors, lack-of-censorship-wise."

Who's the sluttiest otherwise?

I'm guessing T the B.

Gene Weingarten: Yes.


Shirley Temple: Wasn't she an ambassador? I don't think she was elected to office.

Gene Weingarten: Wasn't she a congresswoman?


Anonymous: Wow - "ugly" is kind of a strong word...what is ugly about her breasts? I'm curious, haven't really seen ugly ones before.

Gene Weingarten: I was recently shown a photo that encapsulates the concept of ugly. Tragically, I cannot share it here because I need the continued income.


Fairfax: One of my friends is a nurse who has spent a lot of time in the colonoscopy recovery room. She tells me that the staff used to have scoring cards that they would hold up after a particularly worthy break of wind.

Gene Weingarten: I assume the patients did not see this?


Opposite Problem: If size doesn't matter, how do women explain this from Dear Prudence on your sister site, Slate?

Gene Weingarten: I haven't read this. Trusting you and Liz that it is apropos.


Life, Liberty, and Property: Actually...the phrase comes from John Locke's Second Treatise on Government (written over 80 years prior).

I have read where some of the founders had enough forethought to realize that by asserting an "unalienable right to property" in the declaration of independence would make it much harder for the document to sustain itself over time.

What is recognized as property in one century (slaves, wives) may not be considered property in the next, however happiness is a much more relative term.

Gene Weingarten: As a poster pointed out, it is also a great word for an official document. Possibly the best word in the Declaration.


Liz Please!: Yes please discuss the woman-scaping. I need to know seriously! Ben Bradlee, everyone!

Gene Weingarten: Clap.


But now I am bushed: I love, love the triple (or maybe quadruple) meanings employed here. Especially since "Bushed" could now also refer to being squashed by an authority who doesn't know any better.

Excellent work, Gene!

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Capitol Hill: I have had college interns in my office who did not know who we fought in World War II, nor if the Viet Nam War and Korean War happened before or after World War II, or even that the Korean War happened. I have to realize: that's just the way it is. I used to get upset when people didn't realize Nelson Rockefeller had even been Vice President. I now am happy if they've even heard of Gerald Ford.

Gene Weingarten: I think it was first noted here that Mr. Bob Dylan seems to think (or did in 1965) that the Spanish American war occurre before the Civil War. ("With God On Our Side.")


Defending the yoots: A 55-year-old is 30 years older than a 25-year-old. Have the older people try to pick Calvin Coolidge out of a trio of old white guys.

Gene Weingarten: Not an excuse.


To Short Stuff: Two thoughts: One, keep making the joke. It sorts out the ones you want to sleep with from the ones who have no sense of humor/were hoping for a big clamdigger. And two, I had a boyfriend hung like a mule, and dumped him happily for the love of my life, who is hung like a parakeet.

My husband tries harder. A quick IM poll of my friends turned up the same thing - after age 25 or so, we'd rather have the little fella. We can buy a big toy. We can't buy sweet and attentive.

Gene Weingarten: Hung like a parakeet!

The single best thing about this chat is its anonymity. We lose that, we lose everything.


Shirley Temple Black: She ran for Congress, but lost. She later served as ambassador to Ghana and then Czechosolvakia.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, thank you.


re: virginity: I don't think it ever becomes a liability, but I'm not sure if it doesn't need to be discussed. There's a decent chance, if the woman is well into her 20s or beyond, that her hymen has already broken. If not, though, the first time could be painful and there could be blood. It may be quite a shock to the guy.

Gene Weingarten: If that happens, she can discuss it then. No obligation; it is a state of mind.


Virgin, AL: Washington, D.C.: Since this is embarrassing question what age does virginity in a woman become a liability? How does one broach this with new partners?

Gene Weingarten: Virginity never needs to be acknowledged.

-- I disagree wholeheartedly, Gene, assuming the woman is not indiscriminate in her choice of partners (and she clearly isn't, if she's at an age where she thinks this will be seen as odd). I was such a person, and my now-husband was so sweet and loving--both about the revelation, and shortly thereafter when he took care of that oddity--that if we weren't considering marriage before, I would have then. In other words, it won't be an issue for the right partner, and it's a good screening tool. My ex-boyfriend had freaked out over it, and we never did the deed (that was not why he's my ex, but it certainly typified the reasons).

Gene Weingarten: Fine. It was your CHOICE, then.


2009 Post Hu, NT: Is it happening??

Gene Weingarten: Yep. Mid-May.


Gene Weingarten: And on that note, we leave.

There will be a week of updates, but I have just discovered that next Tuesday I have a thing scheduled all day. Remarkably, it is connected with The Post Hunt.

I will let you know during the updates if we are rescheduling the chat for a different time, or cancelling it.


UPDATED 1.7.09

Gene Weingarten: A few days ago my friend Christine Lavin, the folksinger, e-mailed me with the lyrics to a song she just wrote and was about to record about the havoc that Attractive, Stupid People have wrought on our country. This song is particularly germane to Chatological Humor because it is largely about . . . Franklin Pierce! This is a man whom I've called the worst president ever, and Christine evidently agrees. I loved the song but quibbled with some of the lyrics, historically and connotatively, and she invited me to fix it. So I wrote a new last verse, which she is using. I'm a co-writer! Of a Christine Lavin song! I might have to join ASCAP!

It debuts HERE in Chatological Humor.

Yes, it's Safe for Work. In fact, it should be REQUIRED for work.


Gene Weingarten: This is late for the present-giving season, but should be filed away by all men, and reviewed periodically.


Gene Weingarten: And here we go, as promised, the longest item ever published in the update to a chat in the history of the World.

This is the entire special 25th anniversary section of Style, from 15 years ago, as chosen by me to general consternation


UPDATED 1.8.09

Gene Weingarten: URGENT IMPORTANT VITAL ANNOUNCEMENT. There will be a chat next week. And it will be on Tuesday, but it will be an hour early: 11 a.m. Okay? Okay.


Rockville, Md.: No comment on my email regarding this story -- and the name of the arrested man?

Gene Weingarten: It's not just the name of the perp. It's the LOOK of the perp.


Washington D.C.: That whole "inextinguishable guilt", accidentally cheering when your team screws up... Is it like when a familiar but sucky song comes on the radio, and you start to bop along to it before realizing that you hate it?

Gene Weingarten: Similar. I would suggest that with the sporting event, it evokes guilt, but with the music, it evokes shame.


byool, IN: Your answer to Herndon was incorrect. He/She asked "What if you scratch someone's bumper while trying to squeeze in between two cars parked at two metered parking spots because YOU think there's enough space for a third car?"

The key is "in between two cars parked at two metered parking spots." Now you're not just a bumper-scratcher (no biggie, IMHO), you're also a scofflaw trying to dodge paying for parking. If we let that happen, it's anarchy, man.

Gene Weingarten: I am always amazed at the law-abiding goody-goodyness of this otherwise intellectually seditious audience.

Leave us examine this, shall we? You are in favor of leaving eight or nine feet of curb space vacant and unused, rather than squeezing another car in there at no cost to anyone, simply because meters are placed at arbitrary distances along the road?

I am not, brother. Or sister. Nor am I in favor of sitting stupidly and obediently at a red light for 90 seconds at 4 a.m. when no one is coming from any distance as far as the eye can see.

Rage. Rage against the machine.


Joshua Bell errors: He was standing.

He wasn't in a metro station, he was outside of it.

And the pieces he played were not all Bach.

Gene Weingarten: Right. And there weren't "thousands" of people who passed him by, there were just over one thousand.

Several other small errors.


Washington, D.C.: So if the general consensus is not to bring it up, does that mean the opposite is true. Let's say you have a guy who is of below average height, and perhaps women assume that other things are below average as well. Should he mention that he is well endowed?

Gene Weingarten: My modest knowledge of women tells me that the guy who mentions he is well endowed is the guy who strikes out, early and often.

Which reminds me, I was sent this link by a woman, under the subject line: "Guys who don't get it. Or any."


UPDATED 1.9.09

New York, N.Y.: This chat has turned into a discussion of matters related to my part, with even Chatwoman opining. I can die happy.

Based on the responses though, I think the bottom line is there is a certain kind of woman who will find it funny to joke about it and a certain kind who will find it weird to joke about it. I'm definitely more attracted to the former and I'm going to stick with the jokes if for no other reason than the fact that the response might give me some insight into that person's compatibility with my sense of humor.

Thanks for the help. You're all so hot.

Gene Weingarten: They ARE, aren't they?


Arlington, Va: I hate when this happens.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. It's worse if you are a girl, though. This guy is lucky he is not, or it would be all over the WORLD.


Washington D.C.: Yes, public women's restrooms have horseshoe seats. But I don't know what the purpose is. I can make an educated guess...

Honestly never thought about it, since they don't do anything for me one way or the other.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I already know this is going to cause a problem, because I have tested it on a few women of my acquaintance, but:

My presumption is that the reason public restrooms have horseshoe seats is to eliminate the likelihood that male genitalia will touch the front of the seat. They can, and do.

Prepare for the ewwwwwwwwwwwwwws, gentlemen. So that extra half inch of clearance does the trick, eh?


OK I have to ask: What makes breasts unattractive?

Gene Weingarten: I am not going to touch this question. I actually wrote an answer. It was elaborate. It had four different criteria. Then I decided, no.


Washington, D.C.: "find yourself exulting when something bad happens to your team."

Now imagine doing this as a cheerleader, in a stadium full of thousands of people, on national TV... yipes.

Especially on a cheerleader squad that prides itself on its professionalism.

Gene Weingarten: AT least it's not the same woman. The first was a blond, the second a brunette.


Bruno: Did you make him up? It seems too good to be true.

Gene Weingarten: Nope. The only thing made up here is the name Bruno.


Next Week's Chat -- SPECIAL TIME: Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET!


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company