Browsing Archives for Dear Charles

Although I live in Washington, DC, and have easy access to a steady stream of marches and rallies, I rarely attend marches or rallies, especially those for causes I support, because these events usually have the opposite of their intended effect on me. Hearing my viewpoints expressed in testy tones, in slogan form, in chants repeated by thousands of people, or accompanied by information that seems to have been painstakingly slanted for maximum reinforcement leaves me feeling less enthusiastic about my viewpoints when I leave a rally than when I arrived. I am occasionally slightly tempted to take a peek at rallies whose causes are strange or distasteful to me, because I have a kind of perverse fascination with such things. I might have gone to the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor rally if it hadn’t started at 10:00 a.m., which would have necessitated my getting up far too early and hurrying far too fast on a Saturday morning for something I was only slightly tempted to do. These attitudes have kept my average rally attendance rate at well below one per year.

However, when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that they would be holding rival events, The Rally To Restore Sanity and The March To Keep Fear Alive, respectively, on October 30, my attendance at at least one of these events was assured by my expectation that they would bear little resemblance to a traditional rally and march, by the probability that my experience at them would be interesting, entertaining, and maybe even uplifting, and by Rechelle’s strong suggestion that I cover them for the blog.

When the two events were combined into The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I and countless other undecided attendees-to-be heaved a heavy sigh of relief at no longer having to agonize over which event to attend, and I followed that up by heaving another heavy sigh of relief on my own when I saw a flyer announcing that the rally would be starting at noon, which I considered a thoroughly reasonable hour. In fact, I resolved to arrive at the rally an hour early, figuring that should be early enough for me to get a spot reasonably close to the stage where the show would be taking place on the National Mall.

To enhance my coverage, Rechelle sent me her spare camera and told me that the secret to taking magnificent pictures with it was to set the little wheel on top of the camera to “P,” so I spent the couple of weeks leading up to the rally getting used to the camera’s presence in my apartment, getting to know its ways, and occasionally taking dazzling photos of my immediate surroundings with the magical “P” setting.

The morning of the rally, I crawled out of bed, enjoyed a leisurely bowl of Raisin Bran, grabbed the camera (making sure it was set on “P”), and hopped on a very crowded bus that was headed for the National Mall. I was surprised when about half the people on the bus got off near the White House, and I gathered from the conversation of some of the remaining passengers that most of the people who got off were en route to the rally but wanted to see the White House first and then walk on from there, apparently unaware (as was I) that each minute spent dawdling at that point would place them a few feet farther away from the action at the rally. Most of the rest of us got off at the end of the line, just north of the Natural History Museum (#3 in the aerial photo below).

The National Mall is the green strip in the middle of the aerial photo. The stage was situated near the east end of the Mall. I cut through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (#4 in the aerial photo) to get to the main entrance to the rally area. Although multitudes were streaming in along with me, it had not yet dawned on me that I should be jockeying for a good position, and I casually meandered in the direction of the stage, pausing to snap a couple of photos of people with signs along the way.

You’ll probably have noticed that these photos are neither magnificent nor dazzling and that the light in them is reminiscent of an unearthly twilight, although they were, in fact, taken on earth and in broad daylight. I noticed that too when I first saw the pictures on my computer, at which point I looked at the camera and noticed that the little wheel had moved and that I had apparently taken all of my photos at a setting represented by a little green image of a camera right next to “P.” I am at a loss to fathom why anyone would include such a setting on a camera, especially right next to a fine setting like “P,” but there it was, and I’m afraid we can expect it to cast an eerie shadow over the rest of the post.

Anyway, next, let’s take a look at a row of porta-potties with people amassing on the steps of the west building of the National Gallery of Art (#5 in the aerial photo of the Mall) in the background.

Once I had lazily snapped this essential photo, I set upon meandering again and almost immediately found that I had reached a point where no further forward movement was possible.

Here was my view of the stage:

There were giant television screens set up at intervals along the Mall. Here was my view of the nearest giant screen:

It was about 11:00. This was where I would be standing for the next 4 hours. For the first hour, the screens showed Daily Show and Colbert Report clips documenting the buildup to the rally, interspersed with clips of musical acts that apparently appeared on the shows. At 11:35, a long, loud cheer arose from a section of the crowd somewhere behind my section of the crowd. Nobody in my section of the crowd could figure out why.

At noon, the “preshow” began. It consisted of a couple of musical numbers from The Roots (who would be the house band for the entire rally), followed by a few more numbers from The Roots and John Legend, followed by an appearance by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, who made the crowd do “the wave” in various ways and then make various sounds (crying, different types of laughing, cheek popping) in unison and then jump all at the same time.

Then it was time for the rally to begin. If you watched it on TV (or watch clips of it now at and, you saw (or will see parts of) exactly what I saw if you put a pole with speakers in front of your screen.

Highlights of the main show included the contest between Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osbourne, and the O’Jays for the rally’s signature “train” song, Wyatt Cenac and Jason Jones’s attempts to put positive and negative spins, respectively, on the rally, P. K. Winsome’s hilarious delivery of his taped bit, a “Moments of Unreasonableness” segment featuring Steven Slater (the flight attendant who quit in a huff on a bad day) and Teresa Guidice (who threw a tantrum on The Real Housewives of New Jersey), the presentation of fear medals and medals for acts of reasonableness, a musical number by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that apparently didn’t come off on stage like it did in rehearsal, Stephen Colbert’s media montages, and John Oliver (as Peter Pan) leading the crowd in chanting “Will This Help?”

And then Stephen Colbert disappeared and Jon Stewart got semiserious and made an attempt to give the event meaning, arguing that the media makes it harder to solve our problems by amplifying the uncivil aspects of both sides in arguments about how to solve those problems and by presenting a distorted image of Americans, and that folks on both sides of these arguments are really quite nice and reasonable people, and that maybe we’ve been too quick to label people terrorists, racists, Stalinists, and theocrats, and that Tea Partiers aren’t “real” racists, and that there’s no reason our often-demonstrated ability to compromise in situations that call for observance of established and agreed-upon protocols and etiquette can’t spill over into our dialogues with those whose views we find repugnant or alarming about issues we consider important. At least that’s what I think he said.

Here’s an interesting take on what Bill Maher thought he said: link if the video fails)

Whatever he said, it seemed to resonate with the crowd to some degree, because everyone seemed calm, reasonable, and civil as we were leaving, even after we had spent several minutes working our way toward what looked like an exit but turned out to be a dead end. (As you can see, the steps of the west building of the National Gallery of Art were now packed to capacity.)

The civility continued and nary a discouraging word was heard as people jumped the fences to gain access to a portion of the Mall that seemed to be clearing out.

I thought it might be nice to get a shot of the stage close up, so, still blissfully unaware that the camera was not set on “P,” I made my way in the direction of the stage.

This is as close as I was able to get 45 minutes after the event had ended.

I then began to wend my way home. I decided to walk, because I knew the public transportation would be crowded.

The steps of the west building of the National Gallery of Art were still packed almost an hour after the event had ended.

This is an intersection near the main entrance to the rally site about an hour after the event had ended.

And here are scenes from a few blocks away.

Here’s a traffic jam at an intersection just outside the area where the streets were closed off.

And here are some people who had the good sense to wait until after the rally to stroll by the White House, in a photo bringing to mind the two chief lessons I learned from the day: never dawdle on the way to a rally, and always check the setting on the camera before taking a picture.

Dear Charles,

I got this e-mail today…

Dear Rechelle,

I am practicing hypnotism. I know it is weird but would you
like to try getting hypnotized again so I could practice? I know it’s weird having a random guy message you about this. But if you want to try let me know.


So Charles, since you are the advice columnist on my blog, I thought maybe you could help me decide what to do about this letter.  Here are my concerns…

1.  Should I reply to this email?
2.  If I reply to this email – what should I say?
3.  For instance – should I consider allowing a total stranger who contacts me through email to hypnotize me and thereby suggest a meeting?
4.  Or should I send a reply that places considerable distance between myself and the idea of getting hypnotized by a total stranger that contacted me through an e-mail?
5.  Do you think that this guy ‘Mitch’ is possibly a serial killer?
6.  I have heard that serial killers have the most magnetic personalities.
7.  I have heard that politicians have the second most magnetic personalities.
8.  This email is not exactly magnetic nor political.
9.  What would you do Charles?

Looking forward to your coverage of ‘The March To Keep Fear Alive’.

Mediocre dinner at best,




Dear Rechelle –

This is indeed a difficult dilemma: whether or not to pass up a potentially interesting and almost certainly bloggable experience on the off chance that your prospective hypnotist might be a serial killer, a politician, or worse. First, let’s determine how potentially interesting it might be. How interesting do you find hypnosis? Do you fall asleep at night thinking “The hypnotized life is the life for me! If I ever got hypnotized, there’d be no stopping me! I’d be gorging myself on imaginary ice cream right now if I were only hypnotized. Oh my god! My eyelids are getting heavy; could this be the start of something wonderful?”? Or do you find those thoughts too exciting to fall asleep to? If you answered “yes” to either of these last two questions, it might be worth your while to investigate this opportunity to turn those scrawny dreams into brawny reality.

If you choose to reply in the affirmative, you might say something like “Dear Mitch, Your letter displays a commendable awareness of the weirdness of your proposition, and from that and the fact that your name is Mitch I infer that you’re a man or boy with both feet on the ground. Such groundedness certainly inspires confidence in your hypnotic abilities. I think I’ll take you up on your generous offer.”

If you’re not really too interested in exploring hypnosis and/or are at all creeped out by the prospect of putting yourself in the hands of a complete stranger who may be hungering for control of your mind, you’ll probably want to reply as follows: “Sir, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but your proposition is weird. I’ll thank you not to contact me again. P.S. Thanks in advance for not contacting me again.”

If you do decide to let Mitch practice his hypnosis skills on you, you should avoid being alone with him in a nonpublic place for the first ten sessions or until he becomes a trusted family friend, whichever comes first. If he suggests meeting in a seedy motel room, insist upon meeting instead in the courtyard of the seedy motel and only during periods when the police are dragging the pool. Better yet, bring an entourage with you. Your entourage should include the Country Doctor, since you and he obviously make a challenging hypnosis team, as well as a more easily hypnotized person to sit between the two of you to keep you from distracting each other and to keep Mitch from getting too discouraged about his hypnotic powers. Round out the group with a photographer, and you’re ready to roll.

Mitch may well be a serial killer (the theory about serial killers having the most magnetic personalities was debunked long ago, but the myth has been perpetuated by all the TV shows and movies featuring glamorous, witty, and debonair serial killers), but if he is, he wouldn’t dare to harm you with your entourage present or with the cops dragging the pool only a few feet away. Unless he’s really, really demented.

As for what I’d do, I’d probably go for it. I’ve always wanted to be hypnotized.

May tonight’s meal be spectacular at worst,


Dear Charles –

How do you know when to cease using a plain old regular comma and begin using the much fancier, vain and hoity-toity semicolon, which – as you probably know – is really just a comma with a high falutin’ top notch? Is there a simple way to remember? One of those mnemonic devices? Maybe a funny song or a cute little rhyme? Could you make up a funny song or a cute little rhyme? Sometimes I quake at how horribly I have neglected the use of the semicolon. I am sure that I have opened psychic sucking semi-colon wounds that will never heal.

You don’t even want to know how bad the dinner was that I just cooked,



That’s exactly where you’re wrong, Rechelle; I very much do want to know how bad the dinner you just cooked was, and I’ll do anything to find out, even put an example of a correctly used semicolon in the first line of this message. As you can see, the semicolon is used chiefly to connect two independent clauses. You can remember this rule with the following convenient mnemonic device:

Tamara Slept In Until Cornwallis The Curious Tinhorn Interrupted Clumsily

You may be startled to realize that the first letters of the words in this entertaining and easy-to-remember sentence are also the first letters in “the semicolon is used chiefly to connect two independent clauses.”

And as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, an independent clause is a clause that can stand on its own as a sentence (mnemonic device: Anna Incinerated Cookbooks In A Cult That Considered Sawdust One Ingredient Of An Apple Strudel).

You also might find this cute little rhyme useful:

Before you type that comma, pause; is that an independent clause?

As you can see, the rhyme (which you may recognize as a key component of my ambitious but largely ineffective “Pause Before You Punctuate” campaign a few years back) contains an example of a correctly used semicolon. Here’s another such example:

Sylvia noticed a dried substance on the Ouija board; it looked like turkey tetrazzini.

As we can see, the clause before the semicolon can stand on its own as a sentence, as can the clause following it. In fact, you could make this sentence into two sentences:

Sylvia noticed a dried substance on the Ouija board. It looked like turkey tetrazzini.

However, the two thoughts are so closely linked that many folks wouldn’t want to cleave them apart quite so drastically.

The second independent clause can also begin with a transitional phrase or a conjunctive adverb (mnemonic device: This Scab Is Crustily Coming Apart Because We Aren’t Through Picking On A Cut Arm):

Let’s get it on; however, let’s not get it too far on.

Again, we could make this into two separate sentences, but we won’t this time. Instead, we’ll replace the conjunctive adverb (“however”) with a coordinating conjunction (“but”), thereby enabling us to use a plain old comma to separate the two clauses:

Let’s get it on, but let’s not get it too far on.

You will notice that “but let’s not get it too far on” cannot stand on its own as a sentence very well. As you can see, coordinating conjunctions can come in handy for people who fear semicolons and would just as soon dispense with this punctuation mark altogether, although you are presumably no longer among these people after having read this edifying information.

To solidify what you’ve learned and to refresh your memory of it at a moment’s notice, feel free to use the following song, which can be sung to the tune of “Marines’ Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli,” etc.).

When two independent clauses
In one sentence must appear
This is not a thing that causes
Us to cringe or quake with fear
No, we merely keep on strollin’
Past the commas and the rest
For we know the semicolon
Is the object of our quest