Shouldn’t his brow be knitted?

Kenneth Berkun sends in this puzzler from the New Yorker.

The joke would be simpler to understand if we had the inbox with yarn and the outbox with garments with a knitting grandmother in the middle. Then the joke would be that the knitter was treating her hobby as if she was (still) in an office.

So, the CIDU question would be why put it in a business office context? Why does the businessman have that deer-in-the-headlights look? Why, if he has the status to get a window office with such a nice view of the skyline, does he have so many pens, and why are they in his suitcoat?  Or, are these details just because Roz Chast probably hasn’t spent much time in a business office (lucky her)?

And should the presence of the inbox and outbox pair be a geezer alert? I don’t think I had an outbox since the mid-1990s, and my physical inbox didn’t have much in it.


  1. It’s in a business context to take advantage of the Inbox/Outbox meme. The humorous irony is that a high-powered business executive has a secret “knitting” habit, in which he indulges at the office.

    P.S. Just by coincidence, today’s “Nick & Zuzu” also features “knitting”:

    At first I thought it was a CIDU, but then I figured it out.

  2. There’s the phrase “stick to your knitting”, meaning stick to doing what you know how to do and not try to do something which you know very little about, which I suppose can mean something similarly patronising to “stay in your lane”.

    Maybe in this context it means something like “carry on doing your dull office job until retirement or death, and don’t even think about promotion”. The fact that this guy’s out tray is full implies that he is so efficient at what he is doing that the internal postal system can’t get his finished product away fast enough. So for him, all he has got to look forward to is more balls of wool – he won’t be given the opportunity to, for instance, reorganise the internal postal system. But if that’s the case, you’d wonder why he was given a wing-back chair and a nice window, instead of some anonymous cubicle in the middle of the office floor.

    If the in-tray was overflowing with balls of wool and the out-tray was empty then you’d think this was a cartoon about someone who has a lot to organise and produce but doesn’t even know where to start with all these lengths of string, or what those chopsticks have to do with it. But they aren’t.

  3. Well I don’t understand either one.

    If knitting is the businessman’s hobby, why does he look so shocked or concerned?

  4. @ Powers – I thought the look was “dismay”. There are supposedly people who knit to relieve stress, but this guy hasn’t progressed far enough to do that yet; or could be worried because his “work” is far from done.

    P.S. The pens are in his pockets because including a holder (or a telephone) on the desk would have distracted from the composition of the two trays. The guy might also be a nerd, but that’s beside the point.

    P.P.S. The “Nick & Zuzu” comic would have worked better if the artwork had been able to include some color for the two “A”s, specifically “scarlet“.

  5. I really wish folks wouldn’t post links that are behind paywalls – I am really curious now to read what Hax’s reply is, but can’t get there. A frustration I really didn’t need today.

    Forgive me if I sound peeved; we’ve been preparing for and awaiting H. Ian for days and I’m getting short-tempered to have my house and my routine so disturbed. I resemble my dogs in that.

  6. Overthinking . . . it’s just that balls of yarn come in and sweaters, etc. come out. I can’t see anything else in this, altho the idea that this is ‘all there is’ until he retires/dies is compelling and ‘splains the look on his face.

  7. Since zbicyclist’s link has a paywall in front of it, some of you may not be able to read the column. Personally, I don’t think that is necessary to understand the artwork: She has a little “A” on her outfit because she engaged in a little adultery, but she’s knitting a great BIGA” for her husband.

  8. Oh, I get the joke, but I wanted to read Hax’s reply to the problem of hubby, his mistress and their kids. I was in a similar situation and was curious.

    I’m in the process of making a website about our Hurricane Tales, so I guess whilst we still have ‘lectricity, I should stick to doing that today.

  9. WaPo has a “gift this article” feature. Let’s see if this “gift” link works any more easily for those of you locked out.

    @Kilby, your explanation with the little and big A may be correct, for the cartoon on its own. You may not have intended it this way, but I think it would not be an accurate summary reaction to the article itself, which does say a bit but not much about the husband being also responsible for his behavior, and mostly is about the attitude of his kids, which doesn’t play a role in the cartoon except maybe as background info on the situation.

  10. P.S. Sorry, Andréa, but better late than never.

    P.P.S. My Florida relatives just moved a few weeks ago, which means they have to batten down the hatches for two separate houses at the same time. I hope you all make it through safe.

  11. @ Mitch – I have never enjoyed reading Caroline Hax’s column, and much prefer to enjoy Nick & Zuzu unencumbered by ancillary text. This has nothing to do with the quality of the advice; I just don’t like reading about miserable people. I felt the same way about Dear Abby & Ann Landers.

  12. I’ve enjoyed her ‘advice’, as well as that of Miss Manners, because the humor (dare I call it their ‘snarkiness’?) many times made light of the so-called problems people would write in about (pardon the ending preposition). Abby & Ann weren’t funny, tho, and I’d just wonder, ‘Who ARE these people and WHAT are they THINKING??’

  13. @ Andréa – Come to think of it, I did enjoy reading Miss Manners on occasion, specifically because of her “snark” qualities.† On the other hand, back in college I knew one guy who always read Abby (or Ann, I forget which), specifically because both of them were often very funny, just completely unintentionally. Whenever he encountered one of those “facepalm” columns, he would read it aloud to the rest of us in the lounge.

    P.S. † – Perhaps my favorite “Miss Manners” example (not quoted, just an approximation):
    Q:When my spouse and I are having an argument, should we wait until the kids are in bed, or discuss it right in front of them?
    A:Go ahead and argue in front of your children, but do it in a foreign language. This will serve as an incredible motivation for learning.

  14. Yes, facepalm-worthy is exactly why I used to read ’em. One could say that reading about these eejits made us feel better about ourselves.

  15. Well, my parents did that. However, I KNEW the language and still identify some of its words with my parents’ arguments, giving them (the words) more power over me than they deserve.

  16. I made a website of our preparations, if anyone’s interested . . . it’s not as exciting as watching people make up sandbags, drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic, empty store shelves, and nail plywood over their windows, but I think it may calm folks down who think EVERYone in Florida panics when a hurricane is forecast . . .

  17. So Andréa, I have to ask, did you “steal” all your books from the library, or do you have your own in-house classification system, complete with labels on the spine? 😀. I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. You did work in a library, right? Be safe.

  18. I have two series labelled IN THEIR CONSECUTIVE ORDER – Terry Prachett’s DiscWorld series, and Martha Grimes’ Inspector Jury series. So those are just numbers, not Dewey Decimal System (which would not put them in consecutive order).

    Those are just the library bookcases; I have several more in my office, in Hubby’s office and a few other places in the house. And they’re piled up on the library coffee table ’cause I have no place to put more bookcases, but I still buy books (not often, tho; most of my books come from our public library).

    My library class once asked our instructor how SHE arranged her books, expecting some very technical answer. What she said was, ‘By size.’ We were disappointed.

    Yes, I do have mine arranged by subject, as much as possible, so that I can readily find any book I wish to.

  19. Snarky responses in advice columns: I forget who it was, but he wrote a column giving advice on sex way back in the 1960’s — a rare thing back then. The question was “Can you catch a social disease in a public bathroom?” His answer: “Yes, but it’s very uncomfortable. The floors are usually cold and hard.”

  20. @ Andréa – There are a number of the BBC “Poirot” episode in which gags about sorting things by size are mentioned. (I enjoy watching Poirot, but I wouldn’t want to live with him.)

  21. Yes, I’ve watched every single episode with Sir David [Suchet]. Twenty-five years he was involved with those. The only ‘size sorting’ I do is small books at the top, larger ones at the bottom.

  22. One of the German “public” stations has been broadcasting all the Poirot episodes with dual soundtracks. By default you hear it in German, but by clicking over to the other track, you can watch it with the original English soundtrack.

  23. I think translated soundtracks leave something to be desired. I was listening once to André Rieu talking before a performance. I was chuckling ’cause I could understand him; the translation wasn’t amusing at all; it really lost the ‘flavor’ of the language.

  24. The king of the OCD detectives was “Monk”. That show and “House MD” are now the Peacock streaming service, so YouTube has be recommending clips like crazy. Many of them are a few years old, so I don’t know why they are suddenly up in the recommendations. I’m not sure if they can pay for play or what.

  25. Paula Poundstone said, “If you want to really annoy someone with OCD, give him a rug with tassels. He’ll never be able to leave the house!”

  26. @ Andréa – Since there are a lot of people around here that are worried about you, but you may not be able (or have time) to check in at CIDU, I’ve decided to post a link to your “aftermath” report. It was reassuring to read that you seem to have been spared any major damage (so far).

  27. We were outside cleaning up the small amount of detritus, mostly bamboo stalks. I’ll be writing another webpage later today. It’s lovely – breezy but not windy, cooled and dried off. Ian had less of an impact than what we get from our every day rainstorms, and certainly less than did H. Irma in 2017; we never even lost power except for a few seconds intermittently, at the beginning. I feel badly for those who were flooded; but they chose to live on the shore, on the barrier islands, on river shores . . . I’m so glad we didn’t do so (not that we could afford to, but I did look, just in case, when I was thinking of buying a different house).

    This may cause 1) the bankruptcy of the homeowners insurance companies; and 2) everyone ELSE’s premiums to go up.

    I’ll stop there, as I’m sure no one is as interested in the ramifications of Ian as I am; the aftermath page will be updated later today; we’re busy putting things ‘to rights’.

  28. I get a bit OCD about SOME things (like using the “good dishes” for holidays even if it is just the two of us or overdecorating for Christmas – “but we put this out every year” – can drive Robert crazy.

    And I do have an inbox, two different out boxes (one for filing finished things and one for outgoing mail) and several holding boxes between in and out (personal, craft business, reenactment unit, and embroidery chapter). they are all in a stack at the right side (against the wall) of my desk – and my desk is the one my parents bought me when I was second grade, so there is not much room on top of it.

    Have I ever mentioned that since I was a child I LOVE playing with office supplies.

    The office is the only organized place in the house as I am far from an organized person.

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